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Organ-Donor Sign-Up Process Needs Improvement; Legislation in the Works

Daughter’s experience while applying for driver’s license prompts state senator to draft bill to ease donor registration

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State Sen. Robert W. Singer (R-Monmouth and Ocean)

New Jersey’s flawed organ-donor application system may soon be improved, thanks to legislative and lobbying efforts to reform a system that’s been criticized for contributing to the state’s relatively poor donor registration rate.

Citing concerns raised by his daughter as well as an NJ Spotlight report on the issue, state Sen. Robert W. Singer (R-Monmouth and Ocean) said he will introduce legislation to revamp the application process.

Some New Jerseyans aren’t having their wishes to become organ donors recorded by the state Motor Vehicle Commission, according to officials with the New Jersey Organ and Tissue Donation Sharing Network, the nonprofit in charge of overseeing organ donations in most of the state.

Singer said he began to have concerns in late November, when his 18-year-old daughter Marianna was faced with a decision about becoming an organ donor for the first time.

“She went to get her driver’s license and was really put back a little” by the question about becoming an organ donor, since she hadn’t received much information on the topic, Singer said.

Singer said he would like to have the MVC provide information on becoming an organ donor during the process for getting a learner’s permit, so that applicants are prepared to make a decision when they apply for a license.

“That’s a big decision for an 18-year-old to make,” Singer said.

He added that his daughter researched the topic, and was disappointed to learn that New Jersey has the sixth-lowest organ-donor registration rate in the country.

“She was really was upset about it, because it’s life-saving for a lot of people,” Singer said. He said he was considering introducing a bill when the NJ Spotlight article on the donor network’s concerns accelerated his plans.

The bill, which is still being drafted, will have several components, Singer said. It will call for simplifying the registration process to make it easier to sign up to be an organ donor directly through the MVC website – critics have said that applicants are required to take unnecessary steps like submitting their Social Security number online before registering.

In addition, the bill would require the MVC to ask people applying for non-driver’s-license identification cards are interested in being organ donors; to record the wishes of every license applicant (network officials say these wishes aren’t being recorded); and to provide after-hours and weekend access to the donor registry (because donor network officials have said they can’t get immediate access to all of the information needed to make organ donations happen quickly).

Singer said he liked to see the MVC make the necessary policy and operational changes without requiring the bill to be passed.

“You get everyone’s attention more when there’s legislation,” Singer said. “The mission is to get it accomplished. However we get it accomplished – whether they do it without legislation – is a win to me.”

Singer said he also hopes the MVC will begin to provide more organ-donor information to applicants like his daughter.

“We’re lagging behind other state’s because we don’t push it enough,” he said.

CEO Joseph Roth said representatives of the organ-donor network plan to meet with officials in Gov. Chris Christie’s counsel’s office to discuss the issue in the next two weeks.

Roth expressed appreciation for Singer’s efforts, adding that the senator has been a longtime supporter of organ donation.

He emphasized that organ donation isn’t a partisan political issue, and that he understands Singer’s preference to have the reforms made without legislative action.

MVC spokeswoman Elysse Coffey released a statement in response to a request for comment on the issue, saying that the MVC values its relationship with organ-donor groups and their efforts to increase the number of registered donors.

“Since 2012, the number of registered organ donors has steadily increased in New Jersey and we continue to work cooperatively with these organizations to encourage residents to sign up using one of several methods,” including via the MVC and donor network websites (njmvc.com and sharingnetwork.org) as well as at 39 motor-vehicle agency offices, she said.

Roth agreed that the MVC has had a good relationship with the network, but problems with the registration process need to be resolved.

“We hope to have some good dialogue” in the coming weeks, Roth said.

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