No More Avoiding the Donor Question

The organ donation field is now mandatory on California driver license applications.

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    California boasts 8.5 million organ donors, but that's only one third of the population eligible to donate their organs to the state's 26,000 waiting patients.

    If signing over your lungs, liver, kidneys or corneas is a difficult commitment for you to make, the DMV is asking that you at least acknowledge the question.

    A revised driver license application went into effect July 1 and requires California motorists to check “yes” or “not at this time” when prompted to be an organ donor, rather than just skip the box.

    “Lots of people ignored it because they didn’t feel like they needed to complete the section,” said Armando Botello, spokesman for the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

    A yes decision remains on file for life, unless the driver rescinds the offer by contacting Donate Life.

    But if the driver chooses “not at this time," he or she will be prompted with the same question when it comes time to renew the license, every four years.

    California’s method of a soft no is the first of its kind in the U.S. and proponents of the change hope it will give drivers time to research the process and discuss it with family members, so perhaps the next time they’ll check yes.

    There are several reasons why a driver may choose not to register, said Bryan Stewart, vice president of communications at One Legacy, a Southern California organ donation network.

    “Some have a degree of doubt as to how the process will unfold, they’re afraid that if you have a pink dot on your license, they won’t work as hard to save you,” Stewart said.

    Medical practice requires emergency personnel to give organ donors the same treatment they would non-donors, Stewart said.

    In order for organ donations to be honored, the patient must have sustained a major head injury and all avenues to restore brain function must have been exhausted. The patient’s heart must be beating for organs to be accepted.

    Most organ donations occur after a stroke or other cerebral bleeding, with about a quarter of instances resulting from car accidents and the rest from a different source of trauma, such as drowning or gunshots, Stewart said.

    There are about 26,000 patients in California waiting for organ transplants, mostly kidneys, and the average wait time ranges from one to five years depending on the required body part.

    “It’s a rare opportunity to actually be an organ donor,” Stewart said.

    Circumstances under which people can actually honor the little pink heart on their ID occur less than one half of 1 percent of the time, he said.

    About 8.5 million, or 30 percent, of eligible Californians are registered organ donors, far below surrounding states, such as Colorado, which boasts 60 percent registration.

    Mountainous states and those in the Pacific Northwest tend to have higher numbers of registered donors, Stewart said, and because organs tend to stay local, this may be due to a stronger sense of community in those areas.

    “(To donate) is a desire to help your neighbor,” he said.