State Sen. Ron Young plans to introduce a bill in the upcoming session of the Maryland General Assembly that would change how drivers become organ donors.
The bill would ask drivers who are renewing or obtaining a driver’s license if they want to opt out of the organ donor program, a change from the current system that asks drivers if they’d like to become a donor.
Asking people if they don’t want to be a donor has been shown to dramatically increase the number of people who participate, said Young (D-Dist. 3), of Frederick.
“It just increases the availability,” he said.
Under the proposal, state Motor Vehicle Administration employees would be required to ask people if they don’t want to participate, rather than having them fill out a form where the information could be overlooked, Young said.
Drivers in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania can choose to become organ donors.
He said he’ll seek cosponsors for the bill as the start of the General Assembly’s session approaches in January and hopes the bill will have wide support in Annapolis.
Del. Galen Claggett (D-Dist. 3A) and Del. Patrick Hogan (R-Dist. 3A), both of Frederick, are expected to file a similar bill in the House of Delegates.
There are currently about 116,000 people in the United States awaiting life-saving transplants, including about 2,300 in Maryland, according to Libby Wolfe, executive director of Donate Life Maryland, which helps oversee the state’s organ-donation registry.
Kidneys are probably the most common organ donated, along with hearts, lungs, livers and pancreases, Wolfe said.
There are about 4.1 million licensed drivers in Maryland, and more than 2 million of them were registered as organ donors in 2011, the most recent figures available, said Buel Young, an MVA spokesman.
There were 493 traffic deaths in Maryland in 2010, the most recent figures available, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
If a patient is declared dead, a hospital is required to notify the Living Legacy Foundation, which serves all of Maryland except for Montgomery, Prince George’s and Charles counties. The foundation helps families of organ donors through the process, according to its website.
Ron Young said the idea for the bill came from Bill Ruehl, a fellow member of the Frederick Rotary Club, who was inspired by fellow Rotarian Pat Hanberry’s life-saving donation of a kidney to a friend.
Ruehl said he began to look into the process of organ donation and talked to doctors who suggested that changing the license application process could lead more people to donate.
Hanberry, chief executive of the Mental Health Association of Frederick County, said she was surprised and “incredibly honored” to find out about the bill.
“I was floored. I had no idea [Young] was even thinking about it,” she said.