MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- A new state law makes a person's recorded wish to become an organ donor legally binding after his or her death.
Medical workers hope the law, which went into effect Sunday, will speed up the transplant process so thousands of seriously ill people can get lifesaving organs. Transplant specialists say the organs from one person can save the lives of as many as eight others.
The law was named for the late state Rep. Darlene Luther, who became one of its early sponsors after getting a liver transplant.
In Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and western Wisconsin, the number of patients on transplant waiting lists has grown from 2,020 in March to 2,348 now, according to LifeSource, the region's nonprofit organ procurement organization.
But the number of organ donors in the area has been stuck at around 150 a year for nearly a decade despite a 20 percent increase in the rest of the nation. Minnesota's new law alone will probably boost organ donation only minimally, said LifeSource spokeswoman Susan Mau Larson.
LifeSource has signed an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to build donor registries from state driver's license databases, Mau Larson said, and the system should be operational soon. In addition, Minnesota has moved to require that organ donor information be given to all license applicants and driver training students.
"Now it's just a brochure sitting there and you hope someone takes it," she said.
In this region, about 40 percent of licensed drivers have checked off donor designations and about 60 percent of families typically allow the organs to be used, she said.
Jeffrey Kahn, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota, said the new law raises some troubling questions. If the law requires that someone's wish to donate organs be honored, what about a wish not to donate?
"If you don't check yes, does that mean no?" he asked.
In Minnesota, Kahn said, they now will be able to ignore a family's objections to taking organs from a designated donor. "But I'm not sure that's what they will do," he said.
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