Editorial: Organ bill is a smart idea
A Lawrence teen is to be commended for successfully advocating for legislation that should increase the number of organ donors in Kansas.
About a year ago, Elliott Whisenant began seeking legislation that would make “yes” the default response for organ donation on Kansas driver’s license registrations and renewals. Whisenant, a Free State High School student, found assistance from Lawrence State Rep. Tom Sloan, who helped craft and sponsor House Bill 2472, which was approved in April and takes effect July 1.
The bill removes the requirement that driver’s license holders must sign a form in the presence of two witnesses if they wish to become organ donors. Instead, it requires a question asking applicants if they’d be willing to donate their organs upon death to be included within applications for a driver’s license, notice of a driver’s license expiration or applications for driver’s license renewal and applications for identification cards.
The default answer is “yes” unless the applicant indicates otherwise.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services information on organ donation, 95 percent of U.S. adults support organ donation but only 54 percent are actually registered as organ donors. Statistically, organs can be harvested in only three in 1,000 deaths. The government reports that there are more than 116,000 people awaiting organ transplants and that 20 of them die each day.
In Kansas, 65 percent of residents are registered as organ donors, which ranks the state 13th overall. The highest registration rates in the country are in Montana, where 91 percent are organ donors, and Alaska, where 89 percent are organ donors. Both states have aggressive policies for asking residents to become donors.
Whisenant said he came upon the presumed consent for organ donors idea while reading the 2008 book “Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness,” by University of Chicago economist Richard H. Thaler and Harvard Law School professor Cass R. Sunstein.
“I thought, ‘Well, this is a good idea.’ It’s minimal effort, and it’s of very large benefit. So why don’t we see if it’s currently in place?” Whisenant recalls. “And it was not. So I thought, Well, I’ll just send an email out to the legislators, just ’cause.”
Sloan responded and began to work on the issue. Whisenant put together a 10-page paper on the issue and made a presentation that legislators praised. Lawmakers from both parties embraced the bill.
Department of Health and Human Services data show that every 10 minutes a person is added to the national transplant waiting list. Increasing the number of organ donors is critical to addressing this need. Kudos to Whisenant and Sloan for developing smart legislation that should grow the number of donors in Kansas.