The Gift of Life: Trying To Stem The Tide In New York’s Organ Donation

Ranked last among the 50 states, New York’s organ donor numbers are at an all-time low.

To try and address this issue, LiveOnNY – a nonprofit, federally designated organ procurement organization dedicated to the recovery of organs and tissue for transplant in the greater New York-Metropolitan area – increased its outreach during the month of April to work to inform and encourage residents across the State to give the gift of life by registering to be an organ donor.

Nearly half of all transplanted organs in 2013 were kidneys. Nearly half of all transplanted organs in 2013 were kidneys.

According to LiveOnNY, another New Yorker dies every 15 hours while waiting for an organ transplant that can help save his or her life. At present, 22 percent of eligible New Yorkers – over the age of 18 – are registered donors, far below the national average of 47 percent.

This story originally appeared in the May 7, 2015 edition of the Queens Tribune.

Out of an estimated 1.7 million residents in Queens eligible to register, only 210,556 – or 12.15 percent – are registered organ donors, according to the New York State Donate Life Registry.

“Over 10,000 people in New York are in need of an organ transplant, with more being added to that list every day,” Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) said in a statement. “By reaching out and encouraging people to become donors, we can begin to address and alleviate the substantial gap between people who need an organ transplant and the number of organs currently available.”

According to Julia Rivera, director of communication for LiveOnNY, there are a variety of reasons why New York lags behind the rest of the country when it comes to organ donation registrants. Most notably, she explained, is the complex system of registering itself.

“The way the system was designed, it’s cumbersome,” Rivera said. “While it takes a very quick short time to sign up in other states, there are so many steps in the system in New York that is takes a long time to sign up.”

She noted that the state has attempted to make it easier – such as enacting “Lauren’s Law” in 2012, which attempted to entice organ donation, and allowing prospective organ donors to sign up online at mydmv.com. But the latter process still requires several steps that could deter a potential organ donor from going through with the registration because of lack of time or patience.

In 2012, there were 223 deceased organ donors in the Greater New York area, the fewest in a decade.

In 2006, State law changed to make it more difficult for next of kin to overrule a donor’s decision to sign the registry. Before that date, registering as an organ donor was considered “intent,” meaning it was not legally binding and a next of kin could freely reject the wishes of a donor after he or she has died. But since then, signing the registry is legally binding and the wishes of the deceased person cannot be overturned by a next of kin.

The number of tissue and eye donations in Greater New York between 2004 and 2003.

Despite efforts to improve organ donor numbers across the State, Phoebe Kmeck, manager of community programs and volunteer services with LiveOnNY, said New York still has the third highest waiting list for people in need of a transplant.

“Organ donation is quite remarkable,” Kmeck said. “One person can save up to 8 people’s lives and improve up to 50 people’s lives through tissue donation. It brings life to those whose lives are in peril and it enriches the legacy of those who selflessly give.”

The consent rate of organ donors has shifted back and forth in the last decade.

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing), along with LiveOnNY, Hevesi and Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) held an organ donation information session at the SelfHelp Austin St. Senior Center in Forest Hills last Thursday, the last day of April, which is Organ Donation Awareness Month. The event was meant to not only raised awareness about the need for organ donors, but also help potential donors register.

“Becoming an organ donor is one of the most selfless contributions you can make to your community,” State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) said. “Every day, New Yorkers lose their lives while waiting for an organ.”

To learn more about organ donation or to register as an organ donor, visit donatelifeny.org for more information.

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