On Thursday's GFB: Rocco Rossi

Feb 27, 2013

By Dale Goldhawk

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11:15am ET | Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist

12:15pm ET | Rocco Rossi, new CEO of Prostate Cancer Canada 


GUEST – Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist.

TOPIC – Close to 4,000 human organs removed during autopsies dating back to the 1970s are sitting in medical storage across the province — and time is running out for families to claim them.

INFO – Ontario’s Forensic Pathology Service recently launched the second phase of its awareness campaign aiming to return organs that were, without familial knowledge, removed from deceased loved ones and retained for further testing. The campaign’s purpose is to return as many organs as possible before June 14 — the date when the body parts from deaths before June 2010 can legally be destroyed.

At a press conference last year, the pathology service came clean about the fact that, for several decades, doctors deliberately did not tell families if they retained an organ of a deceased relative for further investigation.

The practice meant countless Ontario families unknowingly buried loved ones who were missing organs — in turn raising serious ethical, religious and spiritual issues.

“The doctor . . . would try and protect the family or patient from truths to spare their grief,” said Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist.

A recent shift toward medical transparency prompted the province’s search for family members, and since the announcement and newspaper advertisements last year more than 400 cases have been opened to return one of the approximately 4,000 organs retained from autopsies conducted over the last 40 years.

Approximately 80 have already been successfully matched, and the province is paying for cremation or burial, as requested by the family. “Sometimes it’s not immediately obvious to the family (what to do with the organ),” Pollanen said.

The pathology service will make a third and final appeal, through publicity including advertisements, before June.

Ontario’s Coroners Act gives coroners the ability to order an autopsy as part of an investigation into a death, often a suicide or murder. Keeping an organ after the body has been returned is a common practice when more time is needed.

In June 2010, the legislation was amended to force all coroners and pathologists to obtain permission from the chief forensic pathologist to retain an organ.

That same legislation gives the province permission to dispose of unclaimed organs — via cremation at incinerators across the province — by June 14, 2013. The legislation does not specify that families must be informed in every case, though “all reasonable attempts” to notify the family must be made, said Pollanen.

The requirement of permission from the chief forensic pathologist is there to ensure “that all these notifications and engagements with the family occur,” he said.

He added that the decision not to contact affected families directly was made out of respect for the possibility that they may not want to know.

“We thought the more respectful approach was to make a more broad disclosure and then work with families to determine what they thought was the best way,” he said.

Bernard Dickens, a University of Toronto professor emeritus of law and expert in medical bioethics, said numerous countries have struggled with the ethics of keeping organs, including the United Kingdom, where it was discovered in 1999 that large numbers of children’s organs had been retained at hospitals without the parents’ knowledge.

Dead bodies are not property under the law, but “we’re beginning to recognize that the things that come out of them can be treated as property,” he said.

The practice of retaining an organ from a body can have devastating effects on religious beliefs, including some aspects of Islam, Judaism and Christianity where there is a belief in resurrection, Dickens said.

“You don’t want the body tinkered with, because it’s got to be functional when the Messiah comes or returns,” he Dickens.   – www.thestar.com


GUEST –  Rocco Rossi, former Toronto Mayoral candidate, new CEO of Prostate Cancer Canada

TOPIC – New face of Prostate Cancer Canada.

INFO – Rocco Rossi will discuss his new role and new direction for prostate cancer research and patient advocacy in Canada for Zoomers.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer to afflict Canadian men and is as prevalent to men as breast cancer is to women.  As former CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario and lively political activist; Mr. Rossi is hitting the ground running.  He would welcome an opportunity to discuss a disease that will impact 25,500 new Canadian men this year alone.

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