Codey Unveils First-In-The-Nation Initiative To Increase Organ Donation, Save Lives

At a news conference in the Statehouse, Senate President Richard J. Codey, D-Essex, unveiled new, first-of-its-kind legislation designed to promote organ donation in New Jersey.

TRENTON – Senate President Richard J. Codey (D-Essex) today unveiled the “New Jersey Hero Act” – pioneering legislation aimed at increasing organ donation and educating residents on the importance of giving the “Gift of Life.” The legislation would make New Jersey the first state in the nation to require two key components – organ donation decisions before applying for a driver’s license and mandatory high school education.

“For the first time anywhere in this country, we are mandating a discussion – one that can, and will, save lives and make everyone a hero,” said Sen. Codey. “This is about more than just checking off a few boxes. This is a full-scale humanitarian effort that will save lives. One day, organ donation will no longer be an afterthought, but a forethought.”

The NJ Hero Act would create an interactive component to the already existing Donate Life Registry provided by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC). The legislation would require that within the next five years every resident 18 years of age or older applying for a driver’s license or identification card must first answer a few simple, yet potentially life-saving questions, regarding organ donation.

Applicants would first be asked whether they want to become an organ donor. If they choose “yes,” their donor status would appear on their license and be maintained in MVC’s registry. If they are not ready to make that decision yet, or are not comfortable with sharing that information, they would then be asked if they would like to designate a decision maker on their behalf. The designated decision maker would be a surrogate who would make the decision on behalf of the patient if they are unable. Sen. Codey deemed this component crucial to increasing the number of organ donors in New Jersey.

“We’ve found that many times people chose not to be a registered organ donor because they are afraid that if they go to the hospital in a life-threatening situation, a medical practitioner will not use every means to save them if they know that the person is willing to donate their organs,” added Sen. Codey. “Now we are removing that concern from the equation. You can keep that decision confidential and place it in the hands of a family member or friend, someone you can discuss your organ donor wishes with privately and trust to make the right decision on your behalf.”

If a person does not wish to become a donor or designate a decision maker on their behalf, they must simply check off a box acknowledging the importance of making an organ donation decision. Once they have completed this process, they will be given a PIN number that they must present to an MVC clerk before they can apply for or renew a license or ID card. The legislation allocates funding for the MVC to create an Internet-based system where residents can complete this process before going to an MVC location.

“Folks need to have these conversations with their loved ones now, before they get to the hospital. The point of this legislation is to move the discussion out of the emergency room and into the living room. This is a seismic cultural change, one that will enable us to connect with residents on four major levels – in high school, in college, at the doctor’s office or hospital, and at the motor vehicle office.”

The bill also incorporates a comprehensive education component at the high school, collegiate and post-graduate levels. Under the NJ Hero Act, New Jersey would be the first state to incorporate mandatory organ donation education into the high school core curriculum. Beginning with the 2008-2009 school year, school districts would be required to implement the component into the Health and Physical Education curriculum. At the collegiate level, institutions of higher education would be required to provide information on New Jersey’s organ donor policies either as part of the curriculum or through student health services.

Furthermore, the bill would require that all medical school and nursing school students complete instruction on the clinical aspects of organ donation before receiving a diploma. Practicing physicians and nurses would be required to take continuing education credits on organ and tissue donation and recovery as a condition of re-licensure or registration renewal.

New Jersey presently has 4,244 residents awaiting organ transplantation according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. Over the last ten years, 2,470 New Jersey residents have died while waiting for an organ donation. For the first six months of 2007, 397 New Jersey residents received 399 lifesaving organ transplants.

Joining Sen. Codey at the press conference were several New Jerseyans who have or will benefit from organ donation, as well as the family members of residents who have been heroes by giving the gift of life. These individuals, as well as representatives from the state’s two federally designated Organ Procurement Organizations, stressed the importance of passing this legislation and introducing organ donation into everyday conversations.

“I know, first hand, the difference that just one person alone can make by becoming an organ and tissue donor,” said Kay Pittman Govito, a donor mother from Moorestown, NJ whose son David ‘Rusty’ gave the gift of life. “If more people say yes, we can make a marked difference in New Jersey and more lives will be saved through organ and tissue donation.”

“Our family is very pleased that this bill is being introduced because we know that more registered donors are desperately needed. I lost my husband Joseph because an organ was not available, and I don’t want any family to have to go through that experience. This legislation will address that, and in the end, more people will be saved,” said Diane Bottino of Haddonfield, NJ.

“With Senator Codey’s leadership, the New Jersey Hero Act, represents an unprecedented position taken by a state that public policy supporting organ and tissue donation is no longer adequate,” said Howard M. Nathan, president and CEO of Gift of Life Donor Program. “In order to save more lives in New Jersey, a comprehensive new approach which provides for mandatory education, discussion and decision making is being implemented. For the first time, a state is advocating that it is the fundamental responsibility of its residents to help save another person’s life.”

“We are grateful to Senator Codey for his longstanding support of organ donation in New Jersey and his commitment to increase awareness about the need for residents to make their donor designations known. With over 4,200 New Jerseyans waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, we cannot afford to miss even one opportunity for an individual to make this gift. These bills will insure that New Jersey citizens will be educated about the life saving power they hold as potential organ and tissue donors, encouraged to document their decision, and empowered to save lives,” said NJ Sharing Network President and CEO Joseph Roth.

The NJ Hero Act, bill S3048, was introduced by Sen. Codey this week as part of a package of bills along with S3047, the Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which are aimed at increasing organ donation and providing oversight.

# # #