A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
April is Donate Life Month – a time to draw attention to the importance of organ donation.
Over the last year, New York substantially increased the amount of registered organ donors thanks to changes made at the state level.
Medical professionals, public health educators, and others dedicated to raising awareness have advocated and supported these changes, however, more donors are needed in New York.
Changes made through state laws are helping to increase enrollment.
In 2016, the donor registry saw increases in donors because of Lauren’s Law.
Lauren’s Law required the Department of Motor Vehicles to ask people on their drivers’ license applications if they would like to become an organ donor.
Prior to the law, this was an optional question.
New Yorkers are now prompted to select “Yes” or “Not at this Time” on the application form.
If they select “yes,” the Department of Motor Vehicles notifies the Department of Health and a letter is mailed with an enrollment form to the applicant.
The law was named after Lauren Shields.
When she was 12, Lauren received a heart transplant and has since worked to raise awareness about organ donation and advocated for changes to improve organ donation rates in New York.
She is now 17 and continues to share her personal story.
The state has made other changes in addition to Lauren’s Law.
Last August, the Governor signed a law that authorizes 16 and 17 year olds to make an anatomical gift upon their death.
I was proud to co-sponsor this legislation in the Assembly which took effect in February.
Prior to February, people had to be 18 to register with the Donate Life Registry.
Now those ages 16 and 17 who apply for a non-driver ID, a license, or a permit are asked if they would like to be registered in the Donate Life Registry.
Parents are authorized to rescind the donor’s authorization if the time of death occurs before the donor turns 18.
This law is significant because many drive before reaching the age of 18 and sometimes 8 years will pass between their first visit to the DMV (at age 16) and their next (when people have to renew their license).
Another law enacted last year requires those applying for health insurance through the NY State of Health Marketplace to be asked if they would like to be registered.
These changes are helping our state to improve the amount of registered donors which helps save lives.
In 2016, 435,000 people added their name to the New York State Donate Life Organ and Tissue Donor Registry – the greatest increase in one year the registry has seen.
At the same time, the number of New Yorkers on the national transplant waitlist dropped below 10,000 for the first time in years.
While this is good news, still only 28% of New Yorkers over the age of 18 are registered organ donors.
In Onondaga County, only 37% of residents are registered. In Oswego County, 34% of individuals are registered and in Jefferson County, 45% are registered.
According to the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network, there are common myths people have about organ donation which prevents some people from registering.
Many cite religious reasons but most major religions support organ donation.
Some believe those who have an illness or medical condition cannot donate organs but health care providers say tests and medical professionals at the time of death determine which organs are suitable for transplant.
Others believe all organs must be donated but this is not the case.
Donors have the option to specify on the registry application.
Some believe that signing the back of their license is enough but experts urge people to register because it allows health care officials to better assist those who are on the waiting list for an organ and can remove doubts from loved ones’ minds at the time of death.
Amazingly, one donor can save the lives of 8 people and a tissue donor can improve 50 lives by restoring eyesight, treating burn patients and preventing the loss of mobility and disability.
To sign up to be an organ donor, visit http://on.ny.gov/1SfeJ4S.
If you are not sure if you are registered, check your driver’s license for a small heart with the words “organ donor.”
If you do not know, call 1-866-693-6667 or email [email protected] to ask.
To get more facts about organ donation, visit http://www.donorrecovery.org/learn/organ-donation-facts.
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office.
My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.