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Senate Greenlights First-In-The-Nation Initiative To Increase Organ Donation

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.

Codey, Vitale Measure Would Require Organ Donation Education and Mandate Decisions Before Getting a Driver’s License

TRENTON – The full Senate today put New Jersey one step closer to becoming a pioneer in organ donation, approving a measure sponsored by Senate President Richard J. Codey and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Joseph F. Vitale, that 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.

“Our goal is to generate a collective awareness about the importance of organ donation so that, hopefully, everyone who does want to donate will,” said Sen. Codey (D-Essex). “We want to move this important conversation out of the emergency room, where illness and injury already create a profound burden, and into the living room, where a thoughtful and deliberate decision can be reached without the pain of loss looming on the horizon.”

“The death of a loved one can be a devastating blow, but for families of organ donors, they can take at least a measure of comfort in knowing that, even though that loved one may be passed on, as their final act, they gave a gift of continued life to someone in need,” added Sen. Vitale. “By increasing awareness of the importance of organ donation in schools, and requiring people to make a decision about donating as part of the driver’s license application, we’re taking a big step to increase our donor pool, and ensure that we have the greatest participation possible – to save the most lives possible.”

Bill S755, also known as the “New Jersey 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 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 by alleviating certain fears that making your decision public will affect the quality of care you receive in an emergency. The designated decision maker component would not be recorded in the MVC database, but would instead function much like a living will.

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 that they have reviewed 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 calls on the MVC to create an Internet-based system where residents can complete this process before going to an MVC location.

The bill also incorporates a comprehensive education component at the high school and collegiate 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. At the post graduate level, medical and nursing school students would be required to complete instruction in organ and tissue donation and recovery as a condition of receiving a diploma.

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.

The bill now heads to the full Assembly for approval.

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