Here is the text of my testimonial to the Maryland State Senate on February 20th, 2013 in support of a bill to link organ donation awareness with driver’s education.
Dear Maryland General Assembly Members: I enthusiastically endorse the “Organ Donation Driver Education Act of 2013” (Maryland SB 768) sponsored by Senator Jamie Raskin and his colleagues Senators Garagiola, Kasemeyer, King, Kittleman, Klausmeier, Montgomery, and Robey. This proposed bill would require the Maryland driver education program to include an online course on organ and tissue donation, thereby providing a continuous source of vitally important information to a broad and influential group of Maryland’s citizens.
I am a transplant surgeon in Rochester, NY with an active commitment to organ donation awareness. Two years ago, we established a grassroots organ donation awareness group, bLifeNY.org, at the University of Rochester Medical Center. BlifeNY is composed of high school, undergraduate, and medical students, as well as transplant professionals and interested community members including transplant recipients, organ donors, and family members of organ donors. Although our focus is primarily on increasing organ donor registration rates in New York State (currently 49th lowest in the nation), we support efforts throughout the country that educate the public about the remarkable success of transplantation, the importance of organ donation, and efforts to encourage everyone to thoughtfully consider registering to become organ donors. We have learned through our experience and through the published literature that the engagement of youth, the establishment of broadly reaching educational efforts, and the identification of suitable environments for thoughtful consideration and conversations are all extremely important components of effective organ donation awareness.
The Organ Donation Driver Education Act is likely to be successful and effective for many reasons. The online education module can be completed at the student’s own pace and should only take about 30 minutes. The course content will be developed by Donate Life Maryland, a nonprofit organization that is highly knowledgeable and devoted to the dissemination of accurate and unbiased information on the subject. Young people throughout Maryland will have an opportunity to learn about organ donation and discuss this sensitive yet important subject with their families. Most importantly, organ donation registration rates are likely to increase and this would result in saving hundreds to thousands of lives and returning previously ill or incapacitated people to fully functioning and productive members of society.
Transplantation is one of the most remarkable successes of modern medicine with long-term success rates approaching 80%. Unfortunately, there is an inexorably growing disparity between the number of people awaiting transplant and the number of organ donors. Nineteen people die every day in the United States awaiting transplants because there are not enough donors. One donor can potentially save up to 8 lives through organ donation and dramatically improve the lives of up to 50 people through eye and tissue donation. Although Maryland enjoys a very respectful 47% organ donation registration rate, this could be better. Senator Raskin’s bill, if passed into law, could save many lives and improve the lives of even more. Success would show the nation that Maryland is a compassionate and forward-thinking land and offer a strategy that could be emulated by other states.
I see this bill as an act of common sense. Just as parents have conversations with their children that smoking is not healthy or that one should not drink and drive, having a conversation whether to give the gift of life should be encouraged and firmly embedded into all aspects of our society.