Laura Siminoff, Dean of the College of Public Health and Laura H. Carnell Professor of Public Health, says proposed updates to Pennsylvania's organ donation law should not be postponed.
When Pennsylvania’s current organ donation law was passed in 1994, it was landmark legislation that became a role model for other states across the country. But over the past 22 years, best practices in organ donation have changed—and our state’s laws have not kept up. Thankfully, that may soon change.
A bill introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives could ensure that the state’s organ donation laws match current standards already adopted by 47 other states. It could increase rates of donor designation and successful organ transplantation, and could reinvigorate the commonwealth’s commitment to organ and tissue donation.
But right now that progress is only hypothetical. House Bill 30 has been languishing without a vote since January 2016, and this delay has had significant consequences for people’s lives: one Pennsylvanian dies every 18 hours waiting for a lifesaving organ donation, and there are over 8,000 Pennsylvanians currently on the waiting list.
House Bill 30 proposes important changes to help reduce that number. It requires that an organ procurement organization (OPO) be notified as quickly as possible after a death, and makes it easier for hospitals to rapidly test organs for suitability as anatomical gifts. Those are key provisions, because research shows that timely notification is critical to successful organ donation.
The bill also ensures that individuals who pre-designate themselves as donors have their decisions respected, and that the families of patients who have not pre-designated (the majority of deaths in Pennsylvania) are given the option to donate whenever possible. The bill emphasizes that OPOs have a duty to check organ donor registries for an individual’s donor status, and it extends requirements that coroners and medical examiners refer deaths to OPOs. This minimizes the number of unnecessary organ donation denials—something that happens more often in Pennsylvania than anywhere else in the country.
It is our legislators’ responsibility to enact changes that have long been proven to save lives. Each additional day without legislative action means more individuals are denied their best chance at life. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives should act now to make sure that some of the most precious resources—organs to be donated—are not wasted needlessly. I urge the House to pass this bill. It’s time for change.