In an effort to improve Alberta’s standing in organ and tissue donation, the provincial government has introduced a private member’s bill as a government bill – which passed its second reading Monday night.

On Monday, the province introduced the Human Tissue and Organ Donation Amendment Act, 2013, or Bill 207 as a government bill.

MLA Len Webber developed the original private members bill, and presented it in March in an effort to encourage more Albertans to sign up as organ donors.

“I’ve been in the legislature for eight years, I’ve been a minister a couple of times,” Webber said. “But nothing has given me a passion as much as this here because I truly believe we are going to save lives by doing this.”

The province has faced dropping donation rates in more than two decades; officials said Alberta’s deceased organ donation rate was between 16 and 17 donors per million Albertans between 1995 and 2005.

By 2011, that rate had dropped by a third to 5 to 7 donors per million.

In that same year, Ontario had 16.3 donors per million, and in British Columbia 11.8 donors per million.

According to the province, the Canadian Institute for Health Information for 2011, 324 Albertans waiting for a kidney transplant, 17 were waiting for a heart transplant, 57 waited for either a single or double lung transplant, and 94 waited for a liver transplant.

Anthony White was one of those patients – four years ago, White suffered from liver failure, and was on the waiting list for some time.

“They got to the point when I was dying, that they were actually praying for someone to be in an accident,” White said. “That’s how bad it got.”

Eventually, a liver was found in time to save his life – but it wasn’t in Alberta, while other provinces have a higher rate of organ donation, thousands nationwide are on waitlists.

“The numbers are grim,” Tim Caulfield, with the U of A Faculty of Law said. “There are 4,500 people on waitlists in Canada right now.

“The gap between available organs and the need for organs is just growing.”

It’s estimated that in Alberta, about 75 people will die while waiting for an organ each year.

In addition, the province has one of the highest rates of diabetes, which they said is a leading cause of kidney failure – which requires dialysis.

The Act will establish a single agency to look after organ and tissue donation in the province, including increasing public awareness.

Bill 207 will also create an organ and tissue consent-to-donate registry, which means those wishing to donate their organs or tissue will be allowed to provide online consent.

They’re measures similar to ones undertaken in a number of other countries – with positive results.

“Other countries have in fact made moves in the last several years,” Norman Kneteman, AHS Zone Chief for Transplantation said. “Australia, the United Kingdom, have put in structures to support organ donation and have seen growth of about 50 percent in both of those countries.”

It’s a cause Tim Caulfield has spent years working on – he’s participating in a research study looking for ways to encourage organ and tissue donation.

“I think we also need to go further, and we need to explore new mechanisms to perhaps even some incentives to get people to donate,” Caulfield said.

Caulfield suggested introducing a tax benefit, or covering funeral expenses of organ donors.

Now that Bill 207 has been introduced as a government bill, it will be given royal assent much sooner.

With files from Breanna Karstens-Smith