The holiday season is approaching and it is always a great time to get together with family and friends, share stories, and catch up with everyone. It is also an opportunity to discuss important topics like organ donation.
In New York, there has been an increased effort to encourage more people to become organ and tissue donors. I helped pass several bills during the 2016 legislative session to enhance public awareness and increase 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. The 2016-17 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.
I was extremely pleased that senate bill 6228, extending “Lauren’s Law” for another four years was signed into law over the summer. 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.
Two other senate bills were signed into law and take effect shortly.
Senate bill 5313A will 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 new law, which will take effect on February 14, 2017, 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 set to become law, 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. This new law takes effect on January 1, 2017.
Another tactic to increase public awareness on this topic is to talk to young people. Senate bill 7003 would help educate high school students about organ, tissue, bone marrow, and blood donation 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.
While this bill did not pass the assembly, the Department of Education agreed to work with organizations that promote organ and tissue donation to develop model curriculum, exemplar lesson plans and best practice instructional resources on the importance and value of organ and tissue donation.