Their View: Lawmakers need to ensure organ donor list grows

In the United States, more than 4,000 people die each year waiting for a kidney.

Although temporary treatment options exist for organ failure, many require almost immediate transplants. The shortage of organs in Pennsylvania and the U.S. as a whole has built a massive waiting list of more than 120,000 people who desperately cling to life, hoping for a donor to save them.

These people need action. The Pennsylvania General Assembly has the responsibility and obligation to enact policies that work to help these people. They cannot wait for a lengthy health care overhaul; something needs to be done now.

Changing organ donor registration to a mandated choice system could be done quickly and would grow the donor population immediately.

Pennsylvania’s situation is much more dire than many other states. Because of our state’s older population, the need for organs is nearly double the rate of the rest of the states. Although Pennsylvania has a donor rate of about 45 percent compared to the national average of 43 percent, the state would need to have a 77 percent designation rate just to match the donor-to-waiting list ratio of the rest of the country.

And what has the General Assembly done about this? Nothing.

They have actually lagged behind the rest of the country in this area despite the great need for organs. Pennsylvania remains one of just four states that have yet to enact the 2006 Anatomical Gift Act, which helps organ procurers gain better access to medical records and donor registries. Unlike California, New York and Illinois, which have already adopted a mandated choice system, Pennsylvania has not even introduced this kind of bill. This irresponsibility needs to change, and it needs to change now.

So what is a mandated choice system?

It’s like McDonald’s requiring its employees to ask customers if they want fries with their order, rather than the customer having to speak up. When asked, the customer just has to say “yes” or “no.”

It’s simple right? It’s the same way with a mandated choice system of organ donor registration. When an individual registers for a driver’s license, he or she must answer the question, “Would you like to join the organ donor registry?”

That’s it. There’s no harvesting of organs from the poor or growing clones for spare parts. It’s just a question.

Will this completely solve Pennsylvania’s shortage? No. Will it save lives? Absolutely. New York implemented this system in 2013. One year later, its organ donor registry increased by more than 20 percent.

Illinois, another state using mandated choice, has an organ donor rate of 60 percent. That is the power of asking one more question. Americans overwhelmingly support organ donation, and there are thousands living in Pennsylvania who would sign up if they had to make the choice. The state just needs to mandate that choice.

This simple change makes the implementation of this plan quite easy. Initially, all that needs to change is one line on a driver’s license application. However, support is critical in the form of education. This can be done by training Department of Motor Vehicles workers to answer questions, advertising the benefits of organ donation and stressing organ donation in school health classes.

Pennsylvanians have fallen victim to the current system for too long, and it is time to act to help those suffering. Write to your congressmen. Forward them this letter. Let those in charge know what needs to change.

While you wait for legislators to change laws, you can change lives. Don’t wait to be asked to join the donor registry; sign up online at organdonor.gov. Tell your friends to do the same.

Time is running out for those who are victims of organ failure, and it is time to take action.