Sunday, September 10, 2000

Organ donor registry sought

BMV would administer program under measure in Ohio House

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Adam Burkhart and others like him are hoping a plan under consideration by the Legislature will help keep them alive.

        The 17-year-old boy from Zanesville has familial cardiomyopathy, an inherited condition that weakens the heart. He has spent the past six months in Ohio State University Medical Center waiting for a transplant he needs.

        Adam doesn't wish for someone's death so that he can live, but for more of those who do die to become organ donors.

        The plan under consideration by the House calls for a registry of organ donors to be developed in the next two years and establishes a procedure that allows organ procurement agencies to take legal action when a family wants to block a donation. The registry would be set up through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

        Organ donation registries exist in Pennsylvania and four other states. Pennsylvania has had a 59 percent increase in donations since forming its registry in 1995.

        Supporters of a donor registry say that about 70,000 Americans await an organ to either save or improve their lives. About 2,300 of those people are from Ohio.

        Lifeline of Ohio, an organ procurement agency, said there were 64 organ donors last year in the 41 central Ohio counties it serves.

        Driver's licenses already include information on whether someone wants to be an organ donor. But the BMV doesn't provide 24-hour access to its list and the ultimate decision is left to the potential donor's family.

        If a bill is approved this year, details of the registry will be worked out later. First, a task force will make recommendations, then the BMV would have to decide how to keep the registry and make it available to organ procurement agencies.

        The bill's success hinges on support from the Senate, in particular, Sen. Grace L. Drake, R-Solon, who leads the Health, Human Services and Aging Committee. A spokeswoman said Ms. Drake is reviewing the proposal.

        No one is sure a registry would increase donation, but it should help prevent questions when someone dies, said Linda Jones, Lifeline's executive director.

        “The biggest thing that we see is families struggling when they don't know what a person wanted,” Ms. Jones said.

        In some cases, the donor wants to donate organs, but the family goes against his or her wishes.

        Ms. Jones said that happened five times last year in Cincinnati.

        Ms. Jones also is encouraging proposed education efforts, such as getting organ donation information to drivers before they go to the BMV to renew their licenses and following up with more information sent to those who decline.

        Lifeline spokeswoman Marilyn Pongonis said many people who aren't informed about donating decline to donate without much reason.

        “What we come up against every day is really apathy — thinking the other person is going to do it,” she said.


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