PCs send organ donation bill for further study, angering Liberals

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Health Minister Dorothy Shephard accused the Liberals of 'leap before you look politics' for introducing the bill on Tuesday and pushing for a second-reading vote 36 hours later. (Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick - image credit)
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard accused the Liberals of 'leap before you look politics' for introducing the bill on Tuesday and pushing for a second-reading vote 36 hours later. (Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick - image credit)

A bill intended to increase the number of organ and tissue donations in New Brunswick became the subject of partisan recrimination between Progressive Conservatives and Liberals Friday morning.

The PC majority in the legislature voted Thursday afternoon to send the "deemed consent" bill to a committee for further study, angering the Liberals.

"They made a decision to push this bill further away and quite frankly, possibly not see this bill adopted in this legislature," Opposition Leader Roger Melanson said during Question Period.

But Health Minister Dorothy Shephard accused the Liberals of "leap-before-you-look politics" for introducing the bill on Tuesday and pushing for a second-reading vote 36 hours later.

"I agree that there many organizations that want to see this, and there are many people in the public who want to see this, but I am quite sure that people in the public do not want us passing a bill that is not ready," she said.

Right now, New Brunswickers may give their consent for organ and tissue donation when they apply for or renew their medicare card, by checking the appropriate box.

The idea behind the proposed Act to Amend the Human Tissue Gift Act is that every New Brunswicker aged 19 or over, who is not exempt, would be considered for organ and tissue donation, unless they opt out.

I want to get it right, and I fully support my minister looking at the details of the bill - Premier Blaine Higgs

The New Brunswick Medical Society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation both supported the bill.

Melanson pressed Premier Blaine Higgs repeatedly to say whether he supported organ donation but Higgs let Shephard field all the questions except one.

"I want to get it right and I fully support my minister looking at the details of the bill," he said.

Opposition Leader Roger Melanson pressed Premier Blaine Higgs on whether he supports organ donation.
Opposition Leader Roger Melanson pressed Premier Blaine Higgs on whether he supports organ donation.(CBC)

The Liberals said their bill mirrored one in Nova Scotia that made that province the first jurisdiction in North America to adopt deemed consent in January.

But Andrea Anderson-Mason, the Fundy the Isles-Saint John West MLA and former attorney-general, said during Thursday's debate she found differences between the two.

"I know the Liberal philosophy is all about the headline, but our philosophy is about the substance," Higgs said. "When we bring it forward, it'll be right."

Shephard said she met with Liberal MLA Jean-Claude d'Amours, who introduced the bill this week, and offered to work with him to improve the bill if the opposition would hold off on bringing it to a vote.

"We would even give them the credit for it, and they decided to go forward," Shephard said. She said if the PCs opposed the idea, they would have defeated it during the second-reading vote.

The bill was instead sent to the law amendments committee, which can opt to hold hearings on it.

It's not clear how soon that will happen. The committee is not scheduled to meet before the legislature adjourns next month for the summer.