Sam Marr: Organ donation should be the ‘new normal’

By Sam Marr
Published on June 2, 2015

For over 25 years I suffered from a serious liver disease, primary sclerosing cholangitis. It did not slow me down, but it was a constant part of my life.

In January 2012, my condition deteriorated to the point that I was placed on the organ transplant waiting list. By the summer of 2012, it was becoming apparent to my wife Susan and I that due to the severe shortage of organs in Ontario, I might never receive a new liver in time. As horrible as that sounds, the most likely best-case scenario was that I would receive a new liver only when I became sick enough to move to the top of the transplant list. Becoming sick enough to get to the top of the list is very dangerous, and unfortunately many people on the list die waiting for a transplant.

Close family and friends, whose generosity I will never forget, offered to be my living organ donor, but testing demonstrated that they were not suitable candidates. Susan then made it her mission in life to try to find someone to save my life.

She launched an amazing email and media campaign to tell my story in the fall of 2012. To my amazement, a number of people came forward and expressed a willingness to be tested as a potential organ donor for me. Some were people we knew, while others were complete strangers. I got the word in early November that a suitable anonymous donor had come forward. The surgery proceeded on Nov. 21, 2012 and was a complete success. My health is now excellent and I have returned full-time to the practice of law. To this day I do not know the identity of the person who saved my life. To say that he or she has my eternal gratitude is a completely inadequate way of expressing my feelings.

All of the major religions support organ donation. I have personally spoken to several families whose loved ones had organs removed for transplantation upon their death, and without exception they said the process brought meaning and comfort to their loss. It takes two minutes to register as a donor online at Everyone is a potential organ and tissue donor, regardless of his or her age. The oldest Canadian organ donor was over 90, while the oldest tissue donor was 102. One donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation, as well as enhance the lives of up to 75 others through tissue donation.

Those who say Eugene Melnyk (or I for that matter) “jumped the queue” are missing the point. There is no queue for living donors. The queue is for deceased donors and that line is too long. A living donor is typically motivated to save a particular person either because the donor knows the ill person or knows their story. If no individual was making an appeal by a phone call or a media campaign, that organ would not be available for anyone. In fact, by obtaining a living donor someone else moves up the queue. Melynk (and I) did not take a cadaver liver, so that liver became available for someone else on the actual organ donor list. In fact, Melynk’s actions saved two lives; his own and the life of the person who will receive the deceased organ that would have gone to him. Additionally, some of those willing to donate to Melnyk, who probably never considered or even knew that there was such a thing as living donor organ donation, are now willing to donate to others needing an organ transplant, thus saving even more lives.

There are other really important issues in this area that are ignored by focusing on “queue jumping.” We as Canadians should be very proud of the fantastic accomplishments that have been made in the field of organ transplantation.

Organ donation is one of the true miracles of modern medical science. When I was first diagnosed in the 1980s, organ donation was not commonplace and often not successful in the long run. Today, people live a long time with bright futures thanks to the advances made in organ transplantation.

When I was a patient at the University Health Network’s Toronto General Hospital (TGH), I don’t think I was ever more proud of being a Canadian. The doctors, nurses, staff and patients were from every corner of the world. All transplant patients, regardless of money, friends, religion, race, or country of origin, were equally the beneficiaries of the hospital’s fantastic care. The transplant centre at TGH is the equal of any in the world.

TGH is the world leader in living organ transplantation. Live liver organ donation is an incredible process. The donor donates a part of his or her liver and miraculously, after the surgery, the liver in both the donor and recipient regenerates. While others hospitals in the world hesitated to act and watched patients die because of a shortage of organs, Dr. Gary Levy, the former director of the TGH’s Multi-Organ Transplant Program, took the steps necessary to save lives by launching an innovative program for living organ donations. The scrutiny for patient safety is very intense. Several people who were willing to donate their liver to me were rejected as donors, as the risk to their health was too great. TGH has performed over 600 living donations, and every single donor has returned to full functional recovery.

People are dying waiting for an organ, while organs are simply buried and wasted in the face of this colossal need. To my mind it’s like burying people with all their money and jewelry. They have no use for their organs once they are dead, and yet tragically these valuable organs are just wasted.

Read this opinion piece here.

About the author:

Sam Marr is a partner in the law firm of Landy, Marr Kats LLP, and is the Trillium Gift of Life Network 2014 award winner for championing organ donation in the legal community.

This article was originally published here: