Bacon: Disparity in organ donation process

Posted by: Jessica Bruder  | Friday, December 20, 2019

Every time a person in Indiana visits the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to renew or acquire a driver’s license, they make a choice that could save numerous lives. With thousands of Americans waiting for life-saving organs and  a growing waiting list, Hoosiers should consider signing up to become an organ donor. This session, I will be working on legislation giving those who agree to be organ donors the opportunity to note their preference for helping fellow Hoosiers.

Organs that can be donated include the liver, lungs, kidney, pancreas and heart, along with skin, tissues and corneas. There are over 113,000 people on the national transplant waiting list, and more than 20 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant. Each year, the number of people on the waiting list is much larger than both the number of available donors and transplants, which grows slowly.

In most cases, the organ matching process is determined by each state’s federally designated sharing region. Indiana is part of a sharing region with Michigan and Ohio. But not every state has the same percentage of people signed up to be an organ donor. At 75 percent, Indiana has one of the highest percentages of registered organ donors in the nation. Michigan is at 66 percent and Ohio at 52 percent.

Midwest states and those in the South have significantly higher numbers of people signed up as organ donors. Whereas coastal areas and larger cities have significantly lower numbers of people signed up – including New York at 32 percent and California at 47 percent – yet they also have the greatest numbers of patients waiting for donor organs.

With the federal government recently making a policy change expanding regions where organs are shared, patients in more rural areas could now be waiting even longer. This change is also impacting the logistics of retrieving and delivering organs, which was already complicated.

To me, the goal should be to encourage more people in these high-need areas to sign up as donors, not expand the area and making already-limited organs even scarcer.

With my proposal for a new law, Hoosiers signing up to be an organ donor could specify their preference to have their organs go to an Indiana resident. If a donor’s organs become available, Indiana residents on the transplant waiting list would be top consideration if they are a match.

Some may not have a preference, but this could be a good option for those who want to help fellow Hoosiers. This additional authority could also incentivize others who may not have wanted to sign up as an organ donor to reconsider since they know they are helping their neighbors, while making the process more equitable as we compete with larger cities and mitigate logistical issues that arise when organs travel.

We are fortunate to live in a society with advanced medical systems allowing for organ donations, but there is room for improvement.  Each of us can play an important role by signing up to be an organ donor. To learn more, visit www.donatelifeindiana.org.

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State Rep. Ron Bacon (R-Chandler) represents House District 75, 
which includes portions of Warrick, Pike and Spencer counties.

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