ALBANY — Teenage drivers would soon be able to sign up as organ donors under a bill that gained final legislative approval Thursday as part of an effort to take New York out of the cellar among states in organ donations.
As the bill passed in the Assembly, 9,845 New Yorkers were on the national waiting list for organ donations.
“Forty-six states have passed this legislation,” said Assemb. Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn), sponsor of the Assembly bill that passed Thursday. “New York is running behind other states.”
The measure will allow 16- and 17-year-olds to choose to be an organ donor when they receive their first driver’s licenses. In the event the youths are killed in a crash, their parents would still have to provide final consent to taking their organs, eyes and tissue for patients on New York State Donate Life registry.
“We are trying to make this a very big health care priority,” said Senate Health Committee chairman Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), who sponsored the Senate bill that passed in April. “This is one of a number of bills that, by the time we finish session, will probably be a half-dozen to a dozen laws regarding organ donations.”
The bill says New York’s donor registry ranks as the 51st most vital among 52 state and local registries in the nation.
The measure would counter an unintended consequence of the state’s recent move to a more efficient system of distributing new driver’s licenses. Without the bill passed Thursday, drivers in New York aren’t asked again about whether they want to become organ donors until they renew their license, often in their mid-20s, Hannon said.
Hannon said he met with state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker who the senator said has been a strong advocate of organ donations. More administrative actions are expected to promote donations.
The bill will be sent to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to be signed into law or vetoed. Another measure underway will create lesson plans for school health classes on how to become organ donors. The state Education Department is developing the lessons now with the New York Alliance for Donation based on a bill sponsored by Ortiz and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport).
In addition, beginning in 2017 under a Hannon bill, New Yorkers will be able to register as organ donors when they buy health insurance through the New York health exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare.
“We can’t afford to make little tweaks,” said Aisha Tator, executive director of the Alliance for Donation. “We need to make bold steps in New York to save lives … lives that could have been and should be saved.”
Ortiz said the measure will also provide a way for parents to know their children’s wishes if they family is thrust into the decision in a tragedy.
The bill notes one organ donor can help save the lives of up to eight people on the donation waiting list and can improve the lives of up to 50 people by restoring eyesight, treating burn patients and helping patients avoid disabilities by replacing malfunctioning, diseased or damaged organs and tissue.