Posted: April 20, 2016

It can be a very emotional time when a family faces the death of a loved one. And even more so when the family chooses to donate that loved one’s organs to others in need of a transplant.

After the decision has happened between the family and the Trillium Gift of Life Network (opens in a new window), Grand River Hospital’s spiritual care providers are often called upon to support families.

GRH spiritual care director Rev. John Lougheed has supported families who have made this very difficult decision. He has seen and personally experienced the hope that comes from a very sad time.


John Lougheed

What are families dealing with when a loved one is dying, and they hear about organ donation? 

It’s a time of coming to terms with the death of their loved one, and living in the ambiguity of the possibility of a gift of life for another patient and family.

How does the discussion happen with patients and families about organ donation?

There is a very careful process. Trillium Gift of Life Network staff speak first by phone directly to the next of kin of a prospective donor. If spiritual care providers hadn’t already been supporting the family, we sometimes come alongside them after that initial call. 

If it is determined that their loved one might be a donor, our role is to provide a supportive presence as they discern and vigil through what is generally a 24 hour period of various consultations and tests, leading up to the matching of organs for donor and recipients.

As I have often said to families of a donor … from the privilege of accompanying recipient families, amidst their gratitude for the gift of life for their loved one, they are also thinking of the family of the donor at this liminal time.  And each time, this seems to bring some comfort to the family of the donor.

In addition to ICU care, GRH provides operating suites for the surgical teams who come to retrieve the organs for transplant.  Sometimes we accompany them to the pre-surgical area where they ‘say their good-byes’ and then await an update in person or by phone, several hours later.

What do you want people to know about organ donation that they may not know?

A personal connection to a donor or recipient is a privilege that creates new insight, and impetus to encourage others.  

When I was serving as a chaplain at the Vancouver General Hospital, I would attend the annual Organ Donor Memorial Service. What began as a ‘blank’ bulletin board was slowly but surely covered with photos of individuals – donors and recipients alike – mingled, just like their lives.

How have your thoughts about the importance of organ donation either changed or been reinforced in the years that you’ve been providing spiritual care? 

In addition to personal and professional experience with organ donation, my awareness has deepened about how most of the world religious traditions encourage organ donation, wherever possible.

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