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Longtime activist to push for organ donation rule changes at Queen’s Park

An activist who’s spent decades pushing for greater acceptance of organ donations will be making his case again at Queen’s Park Wednesday, 20 years after he began a cross-Canada walk to build awareness about transplants.

Now, George Marcello is pushing for the rules around donations to be changed in an effort to reduce the numbers of people who die waiting for a lifesaving organ.

The longtime member of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party will be at Queen’s Park to support NDP MPP France Gelinas, who is putting forward another private member’s bill to boost organ donations just months after her previous proposed legislation failed to pass.

“It’s worse than war, this disease that’s killing us,” Marcello, 64, said about the long waiting lists for organs.

According to the Trillium Gift of Life Network, the government agency responsible for organ and tissue donations, more than 1,600 people in Ontario are waiting for an organ. Someone dies every three days because a donor organ cannot be found in time.

Marcello started advocating for more organ donations after receiving a liver transplant in 1995. He then received another one 10 years later. Now, his kidney is failing and he expects he’ll be on the organ recipient waiting list again in a few weeks.

“I could die any day, but as long as I’m alive, I want to get around to each member and try and persuade them to accept this bill,” said Marcello, who has been pressuring PC MPPs on the issue since Mike Harris was premier.

Marcello wants Ontario to adopt what he calls a “soft opt out” policy for organ donations, meaning that unless people 18 years of age or older have stated they do not want their organ donated when they die, consent will be presumed. A similar policy is set to come into place in the UK next year.

Gelinas previous bill, unsuccessfully tabled last March, called for a similar policy.

This time, the language in her proposed legislation is softened somewhat, making clear that if someone who’s died had told a family member they did not want their organs donated, that wish is respected.

“There are many opportunities to opt out,” Gelinas said in a phone interview, including at or near the time of death.

Gelinas feels acceptance is growing to change the rules around organ donation, moving beyond the system of fillng out a consent form.

“I’ve been a politician long enough to know I’m not going to reach the finish line just because I put a private member’s bill forward,” she said.

“What I’m doing is bringing more and more people into the tent who want this to happen and together we will reach the finish line.”

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