Life-changing legislation signed into law by Governor Cuomo in August 2016 takes effect today, February 14, 2017, potentially impacting thousands. The bill, A.4990B-Ortiz/S.5313A-Hannon, allows sixteen and seventeen-year-olds to express their intent to be organ, eye and tissue donors by enrolling in the New York State Donate Life Registry. With this law, New York joins 48 other registries, including Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, where there is either no age restriction to join the donor registry, or the minimum age is younger than eighteen.
There are nearly 10,000 New Yorkers on the national organ transplant waitlist, and 1,800 of these individuals have been waiting for over five years.
"As many already know, the youngest New Yorkers can be our most giving residents and this new law will provide these young men and women with an increased ability to help others by registering as organ donors. It will also have the added benefit of raising awareness of this issue by bringing the discussion into schools and homes throughout the state. It is our hope that this increased awareness will lead many of our high school aged residents to have a dialogue with their parents and help increase the number of donors in our state," stated Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.
"We may underestimate them, but young people can do incredible things and make very thoughtful decisions, sometimes without their parents even being aware," according to April Rowley, whose son Thomas died tragically in November, "The proudest moment of my life was when I went to the hospital the night Tom died and they told me he was an organ donor. It didn't surprise me, but it made me so unbelievably proud, that he was 20 years old and that he thought to check that box. Someone else is going to be able to see the world now through his eyes," she says.
"Although we have made tremendous progress over the years, New York continues to have one of the longest waiting lists for people requiring transplants. Allowing residents under 18 who register their intent to join the state's donor registry when they apply for a driver's license is a sensible and effective way to increase and improve this program. I am proud to have sponsored this important legislation, and am excited to see all of the lives that will be saved by this law," said Assistant Assembly Speaker Felix W. Ortiz.
"I'm proud that New York has taken steps to improve the lives of thousands waiting for a miracle," said Senator Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau). "It's unacceptable that our need for organ and tissue transplants in New York is the third highest in the nation, while having the second lowest percentage of registered donors. We need to do all we can in the Legislature to ensure every New Yorker in need of a lifesaving transplant receives one, and this law is a significant step in the right direction."
Age limitations that previously existed meant that parents didn't know of their children's intentions and may have been left to make difficult decisions when tragic situations arose. Now, New York has joined the overwhelming majority of other Donate Life registries in the nation by allowing these individuals to document their desire to help a fellow New Yorker in need of a transplant and enroll in the NYS Donate Life Registry.
Aisha Tator, Executive Director of the New York Alliance for Donation, said, "In my years of working with the donation community, I have encountered countless young New Yorkers who feel strongly about registering as lifesaving donors. However, because they have been unable to register their intent to donate when they visit the DMV for the first time at age sixteen or seventeen, they often do not have another opportunity to join the donor registry until they reach their late twenties. It only takes one organ donor to save the lives of up to eight people. With this change to law, we can now allow anyone who wishes to make a generous, anatomical gift the opportunity to join the registry."
Prior to this legislation, the minimum age required for enrollment was eighteen. Now, sixteen and seventeen year olds will be able check "yes" and join the NYS Donate Life Registry when visiting the DMV to obtain a learner's permit or driver's license, registering to vote, or any other means allowable by the NYS Department of Health. Should someone under the age of 18 be considered as a potential donor, the parents or legal guardians make the final determination on whether donation proceeds. Upon reaching the age of eighteen, the enrollment will be regarded as consent to donation. The law is removing barriers for young people to fulfill what they feel is an important community responsibility, signing up as an organ, eye and tissue donor.