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No excuse for not spending organ-donor fund

Paramedic Bruno Fernandini prepares a room for the

Paramedic Bruno Fernandini prepares a room for the next patient at the University of Miami Hospital's Emergency Department on April 30, 2012 in Miami, Fla. Credit: Getty Images

When it comes to organ donation, New York State does horribly. But it's even more shameful that money set aside to address the problem isn't being spent.

Only 22 percent of New York's residents are enrolled as organ donors. The state ranks 49th, behind only Vermont. The national average is 48 percent.

The devastating result is that in 2013, more than 500 New Yorkers died while waiting for transplants, and more than 10,000 were on waiting lists.

Many problems of organ shortages are tough to overcome. Some people have religious objections to donating. Others are squeamish. Families sometimes refuse to allow organs of a terminally injured loved one to be taken, even when that person enrolled as a donor. Many residents, especially in cities, are non-drivers and have little contact with the Department of Motor Vehicles, where donors can easily enroll. And the state enrollment system is fragmented, with unusually arduous methods.

But one particular problem -- making people aware of the need for donors -- would be easier to fix if nearly $1 million set aside by the state for that purpose were utilized. The Donate Life Trust Fund, established in 2004 to promote donations, receives money from renewals of custom license plates dedicated to the cause. But a Newsday investigation found the money is sitting unspent.

We need to address the difficult structural and cultural problems that keep people from donating in New York. Educating potential donors and streamlining enrollment will take a lot of time and effort, but spending money already set aside to raise awareness is a pretty easy way to begin working on the problem. It should begin immediately.