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Minnesota Wants to Make it Easy to be an Organ Donor

To a point

National statistics on organ donation reveal a chilling picture: A new person is added to a transplant waiting list every 10 minutes; and 20 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant.

On the other hand, a donor can provide 8 lifesaving organs—plus improve as many as 50 lives by eyes and tissue donation. And approximately 54 percent of adults in the U.S. are on the organ donor registry (though 95 percent support organ donation).

We have the potential to harvest many thousands more needed transplantable organs; the medical community, medical ethicists and legislators have strived to come up with laws and policies that promote organ donation without overstepping the line of individual intentions. In 1968, the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) established national standards governing organ donation. In 1984, the Organ Procurement Transplantation Network (OPTN) was established to oversee fair allocation of donated organs. To date, all states have adopted some form of the UAGA, with most, including Minnesota, incorporating the updates into their statutes. However, despite the law’s intent to make organ donation easier, there remains a critical shortage of donated organs.

Under Minnesota law, you may authorize an anatomical gift if you are an adult, a 16-year-old with a driver’s license, an emancipated minor, the parent of a minor donor, or the health care agent of the donor. Organ donation may be designated by driver’s license, will, online, or by expression of wishes during a terminal illness to two disinterested witnesses. You may also change your mind and revoke a prior registration.

Some states allow you to specify what parts you want donated and/or for what purpose. However, in Minnesota, the transplant system provides a blanket authorization for use of organs, tissues and eyes. You may designate a specific recipient, such as a family member, for a specific body part, but otherwise (or if the named individual isn’t a match to receive the organ), donations will be made to the appropriate organ procurement organization or bank.

Many European countries—including France, Italy and Spain—have enacted organ donation opt-out laws as a means to increase potential donors. These laws are essentially the opposite of those requiring registration, in that everyone is automatically placed in the donor pool, and individuals must explicitly opt out. A study showed that opt-out systems result in higher numbers of transplants. However, attempts to pass similar presumed consent laws in the U.S. have met with resistance; no state has passed such a requirement.

Another strategy for increasing donor rolls is potentially the most controversial: financial compensation for living donors. Currently, it’s illegal to pay for human organs everywhere in the world—except Iran. Some argue that keeping people in need of kidney transplants alive through dialysis costs more than would paying for donors, and that saving lives overrides any moral squeamishness. Nonetheless, the sale of body parts opens a Pandora’s Box of civil rights and equity issues.

If you’d like to explore organ donation issues, including arranging for a donation of a kidney or other body part during your lifetime, talk to an experienced attorney about the legal issues surrounding health care and planning. For more information on this area of law, see our overview of health care law.

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