Texas Lawmaker Proposes Controversial Organ Donor Policy

A Texas lawmaker says he has a plan to help approximately 10,000 people on the state's organ transplant waiting list, but not everyone is on board.

Rep. Jason Villalba said his proposal will save the lives of at least some of the people who die in Texas every day because there are not enough organ donations.

The organ donor registry is currently opt-in, meaning people have to check a box when you signing up for a driver's license to become a donor.

Villalba's proposal would make the registry opt-out. He wants to change the form to indicate that people will be included in the registry with consent unless they check the box to not become a donor.

"We're giving you a disclosure that you're going to be included in this registry, and you have to check a box to get out. It's not automatic," he said. "You have a choice and then there is a disclaimer that says you will be included if you do nothing."

Some see the proposal as a government mandate. Donate Life Texas says they are against the proposed legislation:

Though well-meaning interest in the topic of organ and tissue donation is welcomed and appreciated, Donate Life Texas and the three Texas-based non-profit organ procurement organizations cannot support the creation of an opt-out registry system because the unintended consequences risk actually decreasing the number of organs available for transplants.

We continue to hold that an opt-in approach to registration is the most effective and ethical method for donor registration. Donation must be respected as a highly personal and emotional decision. An opt in system allows people to make a decision about donation when they are ready and to affirm it by registering.

To date, nearly 47% of Texas adults are registered with more than a million new people choosing to join each year.  Momentum for registration is sustained by wide-spread community outreach and the ability to register easily through the driver license and ID card application processes that use clear, straightforward language. This momentum could be halted by the creation of an opt-out system which reverses decades of public education, uses confusing language and will draws vocal opposition from many citizens concerned about issues of privacy, autonomy and the rights to one's own body.

The controversy over these concerns may cause those who object to the system to opt out, regardless of their actual inclination to donate. A 2011 Texas survey found that 57% of respondents opposed an opt-out system and 27% said they would take active steps to opt-out if such a system existed. Such strong negative public sentiment demonstrates the real risk that backlash against an opt-out system could result in fewer donations, not more.

The number of organs for available for transplant in Texas has increased by 31% over the past 5 years and continues to rise due to active and on-going donor registration and case management strategies being implemented by the Texas OPOs and donor registry.

Rather than changing the existing donor registry system that will likely top 50% of Texas adults by the end of this year, we encourage people to have discussions with their family members and friends about their decision to donate and to become active as volunteers with their local procurement organizations."
-Suzy Miller, Executive Director, Donate Life Texas

If passed, the bill would be the first of its kind in the United States.

Editor's Note: We initially reported 22 people die every day in Texas waiting on organ donations -- that was a national number. We regret the error.

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