APTN National News
The Grand Chief of Treaty 8 in Alberta says he was “horrified” to find out Alberta has a policy allowing for the harvesting of organs from children who die in the care of the province.
Treaty 8 Grand Chief Steve Courtoreille said he is upset that First Nations were not made aware of the practice until now.
“Having just learned of this policy, I am horrified, appalled and, quite frankly, mad as hell that this is happening and that it has been working quietly in the background for so long,” said Courtoreille in a statement.
With an already high number of Aboriginal children in care, a 2013 investigation conducted by the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald revealed a startling trend in the deaths of children in care in Alberta. The investigation uncovered that while only nine per cent of Alberta children are Indigenous they accounted for 78 per cent of children who have died in foster care since 1999.
“We have children in care that are dying, and now, we find out that they may be harvesting their organs?” said Courtorielle. “It is disgusting, they are dying under provincial care, in a provincial system. Last year, we had 20 Aboriginal children die in care, does this policy mean all these kids had their organs removed? What is going on in this province?”
Treaty 8 officials are demanding that First Nations be consulted on the organ donation policy and that it be amended.
Courtoreille said that removing dead children’s organs shouldn’t be a decision for the province to make. He said the practice needs to stop immediately.
“Part of our culture is that a body must be whole when it goes back to the Creator, not dissected as the government sees fit,” said Courtoreille. “The problem is that we are not a part of these conversations, instead, the Province just did it. In the 8 years this policy has been in place how many of our children have been sent back missing parts? Honestly, if people aren’t shocked by this, then they just aren’t listening.”
Courtoreille said he is also concerned First Nations organizations don’t have access to records to find out information about the Aboriginal children who have died in care and if their organs were removed.
Treaty 8 is aware of at least one past instance of the province harvesting a dead child’s organs without consent from the family.
In an email to APTN, the Ministry of Health said they are more than willing to sit down and discuss concerns about the policy with First Nation representatives. They also said it is extremely rare for medical authorities to ask for organ and tissue donations.
“Among the general population, only 1 to 2 per cent of people are considered suitable for donation when they die,” said Mike Berezowsky, assistant director, communications, Alberta Human Services.
“In fact, there have only been two occurrences involving children in care in recent years. One involved a child who was not Aboriginal, and in that matter the father – when located – was supportive of the decision. In the other, consent was provided based on the direction and wishes from the youth, who was Aboriginal. The family supported the decision.”
He went on to reference the cultural sensitivity’s surrounding the policy,
“When making a decision about organ and tissue donations for children in care, cultural and religious beliefs and practices are essential considerations, as well as the preferences of the child (where appropriate) and the child’s family.”
The organ donation policy was first created in 2006, and applied to children in care under the status of a Permanent Guardianship Order (PGO).
At the time, the ministry met with 18 First Nation agencies and 12 CEO’s of Child and Family agencies to announce the policy and its implementation. Then, in 2014, the policy expanded to include children in care under a Temporary Guardianship Order (TGO).