States Look to Model Law To Clear Up Organ Donor Rules
State legislatures nationwide have begun to consider a model bill that would revise organ donation laws to help address a shortage, despite criticism of the legislation by physicians and bioethicists, the Washington Post reports.
The Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and sent to states earlier this year, would clarify a number of issues to allow more individuals to become organ donors. The legislation would expand the list of family members allowed to provide consent for unconscious patients to become organ donors; clarify that family members cannot overrule decisions by patients to become donors; and establish more computerized registries of individuals who seek to become donors.
In addition, the bill addresses the conflict when patients have signed organ donor cards but also "living wills" or other documents that state they do not want to remain on life support, which in some cases is needed to maintain organ viability for transplants. Under the legislation, organ donor cards would supersede living wills.
Virginia, Idaho, Utah and South Dakota have enacted the bill, and state legislatures in Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa and New Mexico have approved the legislation. State legislatures in at least 17 other states -- as well as Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands -- have begun to consider the bill.
Carlyle Ring, chair of the committee that drafted the model legislation, said, "Every hour, a patient dies for the lack of an available organ. Our hope is this could help with this critical health problem."
Ana Iltis, a bioethicist at St. Louis University, said, "Most people who agree to be organ donors think about it in terms of what will happen to their body after they die. This says it also has implications for what they do to you before you die."
Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, said, "There are lots of efforts to bridge the growing gap between demand and supply. We have to be very careful that we don't make people think that we don't have their best interests in mind and are just going to use them to get their body parts." Caplan added, "Anything that blurs that line between patient-comfort-care-first, organ-donation-later is going to make the American public very nervous" (Stein, Washington Post, 4/4).