Measures Aim to Make Organ Donation Easier and More Frequent in New Jersey

Lilo H. Stainton | January 8, 2020 | Health Care
Lawmakers propose disability payments, job protections and tax breaks for those who make a ‘living donation’
Credit: Pixabay
Living donations are generally considered preferable, when possible.

More than 200 New Jerseyans make a “living donation” of a kidney, liver or other organ each year and a similar number of lifesaving body parts come from donors who have died. But this generosity isn’t enough to save the nearly 4,000 residents in need of a healthy organ, or the dozens who die each year waiting for a transplant.

Garden State lawmakers are seeking to boost organ donation and make it easier for those who want to make these lifesaving gifts. And as they reach the end of the current two-year legislative session, panels in the Assembly and Senate are each scheduled to take up separate bills related to live organ donation when they meet Thursday.

The Senate budget committee is expected to consider legislation that would ensure organ donors were eligible for disability payments and had some level of job security after their surgery. Members of the Assembly appropriations committee will discuss a measure that would give public workers 30 paid days off to donate an organ and create tax breaks for donors and their employers; this bill was passed by the Senate budget committee Monday. Both bills require full votes in at least one house before the governor could sign either into law.

“It’s about making it as easy as possible for that donor to say ‘yes,’” according to Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D-Burlington), a lead sponsor of the bill with tax breaks and public worker leave, dubbed “Lindsay’s Law” in honor of Lindsay Clark, a Pine Hill kidney donor. “The hardship on the donor is not just physical, it’s also economic,” Murphy added.

While most of a living donor’s medical costs are covered by the organ recipient’s insurance, some tests and future check-ups could fall on them. In addition, the donor may need to take time off work and pay for their own travel and lodging for family members; liver transplants can involve a week in the hospital, for example, and a month or more off work. While some groups, like the National Living Donor Assistance Network, offer up to $6,000 to help offset these costs, the expense involved can be prohibitive for some potential donors.

Since 1988, more than 11,200 organ and tissue donations have been made in New Jersey, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network; nearly 5,700 came from those who had died and close to 5,600 were from living donors. Living donations are generally considered preferable, when possible, as they offer better chances for the recipient’s recovery.

Organs from one deceased donor can save up to eight lives and improve the health of dozens of other patients, according to the NJ Sharing Network, a nonprofit that coordinates donations from deceased individuals as part of a national system. More than 115,000 people nationwide await organ transplants — including the 4,000 in New Jersey — and 20 die each day, the group notes. In 2018, 83 Garden State residents passed away while on the transplant list.

New Jerseyans who have agreed to donate: 40%

“Anything that makes it easier for a person to make the decision to donate I can get behind,” said Joe Roth, the president and CEO of the Sharing Network. There has been growing awareness of organ donation, and roughly 40% of New Jerseyans have agreed to donate body parts to others when they die, the group notes.

The bill (S-3168/A-1449) scheduled for review by the Senate budget committee Thursday, sponsored by Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer), would amend a 1948 statute to ensure that organ and bone marrow donors would be eligible to collect disability payments while recovering. The payments could begin immediately and last up to 26 weeks, as they do for other conditions.

The measure, first championed by Assemblymen Daniel Benson and Wayne DeAngelo (both D-Mercer) in 2015, would also ensure that a worker who donated an organ and took disability time would be entitled to the same position, or an equivalent job, pay and other benefits, when they returned to work. However, if the employer downsized their staff while the individual was out on disability, the organ donor would not be protected. While it passed the Assembly in October 2018, the bill also faces a full Senate vote.

The second bill, Lindsay’s Law, (S-4188/A-6075), sponsored by Assembly members Murphy, Ronald Dancer (D-Monmouth) and Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden), faces a hearing in the Assembly appropriations committee Thursday. Introduced late last year, the measure would enable the roughly 800,000 state, county, municipal and school workers to take up to 30 days paid leave if they chose to be a living organ donor.

In addition, the proposal would allow Garden State taxpayers to deduct up to $10,000 for travel, lodging, lost wages and other expenses related to living organ donation. And employers could deduct a quarter of the salary of a worker who served as a donor for the period that person was out, up to 30 days. (For partnerships or S corporations, the deduction would be calculated differently.)

“It’s hard to find a match” for a successful transplant, Murphy said. She sought to donate a kidney to her sister, who battled lupus for decades, but she was not considered a match. “And when you do, (the donor faces) a lot of time in recovery, and it’s so expensive if they have to miss work,” she continued. “A lot of people can’t afford to do that.”

The bill and its Senate counterpart, sponsored by Senate James Beach (D-Camden), passed the Senate budget committee Monday and still face full votes in both houses.