Let donors decide

Some months ago, China’s practice of selling the organs of the 5,000 inmates it executes annually drew national attention. Most of the nation sensibly disapproved strongly. The perverse incentives that result for both the providers and the distributors make the idea of a legal market for organs too unethical to seriously consider as public policy.

However, our society’s denouncement of a disturbing section of the free market does little to comfort the 80,000 Americans currently waiting for life-saving organs. For that, there needs to be an increase in supply, and our previous editorial called for all able bodies to become donors. We now applaud and urge state legislators to pass a bill solidifying the legality of an organ donor checkoff on IDs. Currently, despite a person checking off the organ donor box on state ID registrations, the family of the would-be donor has the final say in the matter.

Every time a person applies for a state ID or driver’s license in Minnesota they are asked if they would like to become a donor. An answer of “no” means a person won’t donate. But an answer of “yes” can mean either yes or no, depending on whether the family wants to honor the donor’s wishes. Most of the time it does, but the decision must be made during a
difficult time for the family. The state could make it a little easier on the family members if it didn’t require them to decide what to do with the deceased’s organs.

The proposed law would leave the choice to the person who has already made the decision – the donor. This would spare families the potential of dissention and morbid dilemmas during an already traumatic time. Also, a person should have the right to decide what to do with his or her body, living or dead, even if that choice does not agree with family members’ beliefs.

A similar law recently passed in Virginia has helped organ procurement organizations collect useful information from the state. In the past, collecting such information was useless, because even if someone was a registered organ donor the real decision was left to the family. Now, though, the organizations are using the information to find better ways to quickly get the life-saving organs to those in need.

One person can take as many as eight people off the list, said Anne Pashchke, spokeswoman for the United Network for Organ Sharing. Currently, 16 people per day die from a shortage of needed organs. With the demand for organs so great, it is absolutely necessary to ensure every willing donor is given the chance to save lives.