By Libby Wolfe, Charlie Alexander, Cindy Speas and Patricia Murphy
In response to Blair Lee’s column (“Hands off my organs!” Dec. 7), we would like to note our disappointment in Mr. Lee’s irresponsible and harmful depiction of the organ and tissue donation process. His use of the terms “harvest’” and “(gutted) like a slaughterhouse steer” not only belittles the life-saving gifts provided by hundreds of Marylanders each year, but will mean dire consequences for the 2,300 Marylanders who currently await a life-saving transplant if readers choose to remove themselves from the donor registry.
In reference to the proposed changes by Sen. Ronald N. Young (D-Dist. 3) of Frederick to the current organ and tissue donor designation system in Maryland to an “opt-out” system rather than the “opt-in” currently in place, Donate Life Maryland along with the organ procurement organizations serving the state, The Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland and the Washington Regional Transplant Community, strongly believe this will have a negative impact on organ donation and transplantation rates in Maryland. The current Maryland Donor Registry system allows members of the community to choose to declare their “yes” or remain silent, communicating their wishes by way of an advanced directive or family discussion. To register, Maryland residents may choose “yes” as part of the MVA driver’s license and state ID card application or renewal or through DonateLifeMaryland.org.
Supporters of opt-out systems note the seeming success of similar systems in European countries when comparing donors per million population; however, many of those countries with presumed consent laws still require authorization from the donor’s family before proceeding with donation.
It is also important to note the negative impact a presumed consent can have on the overall community, which has been seen from other countries that have implemented a similar system. For example, in February 1997, Brazil implemented a “hard” form for presumed consent that did not require additional authorization from family members. As a result, there was widespread public panic, and the legislation was quickly amended to make consultation with the family mandatory; however, the damage had been done, and the entire law was revoked in October 1998.
Through the current opt-in system, Maryland continues to see steady growth in registrants to the Maryland Donor Registry, at a rate of nearly 20 percent since its inception in 2007. Currently, nearly half of all adults in the state have designated themselves as donors. Organ donation in Maryland outperforms any of the European systems using the opt-out system.
This success has been built on effective education, proper support of potential donor families and embracing the autonomy of decision that is at the foundation of our country’s beliefs.
The mission of Donate Life Maryland, along with The Living Legacy Foundation, the Washington Regional Transplant Community and the Medical Eye Bank of Maryland, is to save and heal lives by registering organ, eye and tissue donors throughout the state. We thank all our currently registered organ, eye and tissue donors, our community partners and dedicated volunteers for continuing to save and heal lives of Marylanders. If you are interested in joining our life-saving cause, go to www.donatelifemaryland.org to register.
Libby Wolfe is executive director of Donate Life Maryland, Charlie Alexander is president and CEO of The Living Legacy Foundation, Cindy Speas is director of public affairs for the Washington Regional Transplant Community, and Patricia Murphy is executive director of the Medical Eye Bank of Maryland.