A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward

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 loved ones.  It is also an opportunity to discuss important topics like organ donation.

First some facts.  More than 120,000 people are waiting for organ transplants in the United States.  In New York State, there are nearly 10,000 people currently in need of a life-saving transplant.  Each year almost 500 New Yorkers because an organ donor cannot be found in time.  One organ donor can save up to eight lives.  The same donor can also save or improve the lives of up to 75 people by donating tissues and corneas.

In New York, there has been an increased effort to encourage more people to become organ and tissue donors.  In recent years, I have helped pass several new laws 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.

One new law now in effect is helping expand the pool of eligible donors by lowering the age of consent for New Yorkers who choose to become a donor.  This new law allows New Yorkers aged 16 or older who wish to consent to donation the ability to enroll in the state’s Donate Life Registry.  In the event that the young person is 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 that is now law provides 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 are asked during the application process if they would like to register for the Donate Life Registry.  This small revision is an effective method of increasing awareness about how easy it is to sign up to be an organ donor.

Additionally, another recently enacted law allows the Transplant Council to expand its scope and help state organ donation efforts by making annual recommendations to the Commissioner of Health on organ donation, procurement organizations, and organ banks and storage.  The Transplant Council is comprised of experts who are committed to these issues.  Moving forward, they will provide valuable insight and recommendations to the state, which will help save lives.

Finally, “Lauren’s Law” is now permanent in New York. Lauren’s Law is named after 12-year-old heart transplant survivor Lauren Shields of Stony Point, New York.  The measure 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 recent efforts are helping boost the donor rolls here in New York.  Over five million New Yorkers are enrolled in the New York State Donate Life Registry, a sizeable increase from just a few years ago.  I will continue to advocate for increased resources and public awareness on the importance of organ and tissue donation through legislation and funding.

There are several ways to become an organ, eye, and tissue donor.  Many people have taken the opportunity to sign up through the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Additional information on how to become an organ donor is available at www.donatelife.ny.gov.  The website includes facts regarding organ donation and answers to any questions you may have.  The website also includes an online form allowing you to enroll in the New York State Donate Life Registry.