Wanted: N.J. organ donors

June 16, 2008 4:10:30 PM PDT
New Jerseyans getting their driver's licenses would have to answer whether they want to be an organ donor under a measure that received final legislative approval Monday. The Assembly voted 72-6 in favor of the bill, which was approved by the Senate in March.

The measure would require people applying for or renewing driver's licenses and identification cards to state whether they want to be a donor and mandate that high schools teach about organ donation, beginning with the 2009-10 school year.

Howard M. Nathan, president and CEO of the Gift of Life Donor Program, said New Jersey would be the first state to impose such requirements.

"For the first time, a state is advocating that it is the fundamental responsibility of its residents to help save another person's life," Nathan said.

About 105,000 people in the United States await organ donations, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, including about 4,200 in New Jersey.

Among those lobbying lawmakers to approve the bill has been Diane Bottino of Haddonfield. Her husband, Joseph, died of hepatitis C at 42 after waiting 15 months for a liver transplant.

"What ultimately caused my husband to die was the shortage of organ donations," she said.

The bill needs only Gov. Jon S. Corzine's signature to become law, but Corzine has not taken a position on it.

"The governor looks forward to reviewing the bill when it crosses his desk," Corzine spokesman Jim Gardner said.

Many states ask license and identification applicants if they want to be an organ donor, but they don't have to answer.

Under New Jersey's measure, if a person wants to be an organ donor, their status would appear on their license and be maintained in a state registry.

They could also designate someone who would make the decision on their behalf.

Those who decide against organ donation would have to acknowledge reviewing information about it.

"We want to move this important conversation out of the emergency room, where illness and injury already create a profound burden, and into the living room, where a thoughtful deliberate decision can be reached without the pain of loss looming on the horizon," said Senate President Richard J. Codey, D-Essex, a bill sponsor.

Cathleen Lewis, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, said about 1.75 million New Jerseyans have checked the organ donation box when applying for either a license or an identification card.

That's 24.5 percent of the state's licenses and identification cards.

Assemblyman Nelson Albano recalled how his son was killed in 2001 by a drunken driver. He said he asked about donating his organs, but was told his son didn't answer the question when he got his license and that it was too late to donate anything but his son's corneas.

He said the bill could avoid such situations by requiring a decision and promoting education.

"It's a great thing that we should do," said Albano, D-Cape May.