April is “National Donate Life” month, and I recently joined with my New York State Senate colleagues in passing several bills and a special legislative resolution to encourage more New Yorkers to become organ and tissue donors. The bills focus on enhancing public awareness and increasing the number of New Yorkers who sign up to help save lives through organ, tissue, bone marrow, and blood donation.
Only 25 percent of potential New Yorkers are enrolled in the New York State Donate Life Registry -- the second lowest rate in the nation. To help increase enrollment, the senate has been advocating for additional resources and striving to raise public awareness of the importance of organ and tissue donation through legislation and funding. Earlier this month, the enacted state budget included $1 million to support the New York Alliance for Donation – an increase of $750,000 over last year – as part of the senate’s ongoing commitment to help New Yorkers in dire need of transplants.
Senate bill 7003 would further increase public awareness of donation, especially among youth. The legislation would help educate high school students about organ, tissue, bone marrow, and blood donation. In New York, the current age of consent to register as a bone marrow and organ and tissue donor is 18. The age of consent to donate blood is 17 (or 16 with parental consent). This measure would help high school students make informed decisions when they reach the age of consent by requiring state Department of Education officials to develop recommendations for instruction in blood, bone marrow, organ, and tissue donations and the life saving benefits each provide.
The senate also passed senate bill 5313A to help increase the number of organ and tissue donors by lowering the age of consent for New Yorkers who choose to become a donor. New York is one of only four states in the nation that requires an individual be 18 or older to enroll in an organ and tissue donor registry. This leaves young people without a mechanism to document their consent to donate and puts parents in the difficult situation of having to assume what their teenage child would have wanted should a tragedy occur. This legislation will give New Yorkers aged 16 or older who wish to consent to donation the ability to enroll in the state’s Donate Life Registry. However, in the event that the young person may be considered for organ, eye, or tissue donation, the parents of that individual will be notified and given the final authorization for donation to take place.
Another measure, senate bill 6952A, would provide an additional opportunity for New Yorkers to document their decision to enroll as an organ and tissue donor. All applicants for health insurance offered through the state health benefit exchange would be provided space during the application process to register for the Donate Life Registry for organ, eye, and tissue donations.
Additionally, senate bill 6528 would make “Lauren’s Law” permanent in New York. Lauren’s Law is named after 12-year-old heart transplant survivor Lauren Shields of Stony Point, New York, and makes it easier to choose to be a donor when enrolling for a driver’s license. The law prohibits a driver's license application from being processed unless the organ donation section is filled out. Applicants have to check a box stating “yes” or “skip this question”. Prior to the law’s enactment, filling out the organ donation section on the application was optional. The law is currently set to expire in October.
Finally, the senate also passed senate bill 7013A to help medical transport teams operate within their necessary and sensitive time frames. The bill would add human organ delivery vehicles to the list of authorized emergency vehicles in the state.
These measures can mean the difference between life and death. All have been sent to the assembly, and I am hopeful they will receive quick approval and be sent on to the governor for his final consideration.