Speaker's Corner: Legal community urged to foster volunteerism, organ donation

In the law business, we often see the worst of people. However, recent events in my life have shown me that what I always suspected was true: Many people have goodness at their core and are looking for ways to express it.

For more than 25 years, I suffered from a serious liver disease. It never slowed me down but it was a constant part of my life. In January 2012, my condition deteriorated to the point that I went on the organ transplant waiting list. As horrible as that sounds, due to Ontario’s severe organ shortage, 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. However, becoming sick enough to move to the top of the list is very dangerous and, unfortunately, many people on the list die waiting for a transplant.

Around his time, my wife Susan and I also learned it was possible to receive a living donation through which someone would donate a part of his or her liver to me. Miraculously, the livers in both the donor and recipient regenerate in size after surgery.

By the summer of 2012, it was becoming apparent that I might not receive a new liver in time. My wife, together with some other close family and friends, offered to be my donor. But testing demonstrated they were not suitable candidates. Susan then made it her mission to try to find someone to save my life by launching an inspiring and extensive campaign in the fall of 2012. To my amazement, a number of people came forward and expressed a willingness to undergo the test as potential donors for me. In early November, we learned of a suitable candidate. The donor wished to remain anonymous. The surgery proceeded on Nov. 21 and was a success.

The extraordinary selflessness demonstrated by the hero who saved my life is rare, but sharing and putting the needs of others first is an inspiration to anyone who wants to volunteer to give back to the community.

According to Statistics Canada, more than 13.3 million people did volunteer work in 2010. They devoted 2.07 billion hours to their volunteer activities, a volume of work equivalent to just under 1.1 million full-time jobs.

Young Canadians aged 15 to 24 were even more likely to volunteer than people in most other age groups. And the higher the education level, the higher the rate of volunteerism.

Making your law firms a place where there are opportunities for the lawyers and staff to help the broader community is good for business. Associate retention rates are one of the biggest problems facing our profession and young lawyers who grew up with the ethos of volunteerism are looking for their firms to provide them with these opportunities at work.

Live donation, while perhaps the ultimate in self-sacrifice, should ideally be unnecessary. The reason donation from living donors is necessary is because, unfathomably, only 23 per cent of Ontarians have registered their consent to donate organs upon their death. Everyone is a potential donor regardless of age.
The oldest Canadian organ donor was more than 90 years old. One donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation.

There remains a severe shortage of organs in Ontario. Right now, there are 1,500 Ontarians waiting for organs. On average, someone on the transplant list in Ontario dies waiting for an organ every three days.

Volunteerism is flourishing and yet organ donation is still floundering. Why?

Many people want to do the right thing but they need help in getting to where they want to go. Statistics Canada informs us that half of Canada’s volunteers do volunteer activities because they had friends who were involved. Leadership and direction from others are key to getting people to take the steps necessary to solve a problem.

How did my wife succeed in encouraging people to help me? It was not because I am a special person but because she inspired others by telling our story in a very beautiful way and explaining to people what was possible and how to do it. If people knew how important this is and how easy it is to register to be an organ donor, they would agree to do it.

They also need to know that for those left behind, organ donation can provide comfort as they grieve their loss. Miriam Young, president of the Toronto Lawyers Association, recently shared with me the story of her father’s death when she was only 15 years old. At the funeral, she said: “My family’s initial reaction was to say no. However, as the doctor spoke about all the people whose lives would be saved and touched by the donation of my father’s organs, we agreed to go through with it.

“I like to think that right now a little girl might be holding her daddy’s hand and asking him to live . . . and he’ll be able to.”

The Trillium Gift of Life Network will gladly assist law firms to run a registration drive. The agency has designed an innovative workplace program that is easy to plan and execute. A key aspect of the campaign includes the creation of a unique page by an organization on the beadonor.ca web site. It’s very easy to do.

I urge lawyers to help save lives by registering to be an organ donor and encouraging their employees and colleagues to do the same.

Registering to become a donor and assisting and motivating others to do the same are an important example of volunteerism. Then some day in the future, some fortunate little girl will have a daddy for many years to come.

For more, see "Lawyer gets lifeline from anonymous donor."

Sam Marr is a lawyer at Landy Marr Kats LLP and former president of the Toronto Lawyers Association.

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