04/24/2014 12:25 EDT | Updated 06/24/2014 05:59 EDT

Nova Scotia considers reverse onus legislation on organ donations

HALIFAX - The Nova Scotia government is considering legislation that would require people to opt out if they don't want their organs and tissues donated after they die, Health Minister Leo Glavine says.

Glavine said Thursday the government is looking at the possibility of reverse onus legislation and wants to gauge public opinion on a policy that would see organs donated unless an individual declines.

He said a formal process for asking the public's opinion will be rolled out, although the idea is still in the planning stages and there are no definite timelines.

He said the issue of organ donations has come across his desk on a number of occasions since the Liberals took office last October. Glavine said he knows from personal experience the sensitivities that can arise when the idea of organ donation is raised by doctors.

"In the last hours of a loved one's life it is a very difficult time if no consent has been given prior and also of course in accident situations," said Glavine.

Premier Stephen McNeil said while no decisions are imminent he personally believes it's time for Nova Scotians to discuss the possibility of adopting reverse onus legislation. He said giving notice of a person's wishes well in advance is preferable to doing so in the final hours of life.

"Whether there needs to be a better way or whether it's reverse onus, I don't know, but it needs to be a conversation," he said.

McNeil said he believes some opportunities for organ donations are lost because the wishes of a potential donor aren't known.

Organ donation has been an issue most recently in Alberta where the government proclaimed legislation last fall creating a new agency to co-ordinate organ donations online in order to make registering as a donor easier.

The move was made to address the province's organ donation rates which are among the lowest in Canada.

Ontario has a similar approach with its Trillium Gift of Life Network.