A new study has found that New York state adults are severely lagging behind the rest of the country when it comes to registering for organ and tissue donation. New York state adults register as organ and tissue donors at less than half the rate of adults nationwide.
The need for lifesaving organs in New York State is among the highest in the country; today, out of the nearly 123,000 Americans that are on waiting lists for organ transplants, almost 11,000 are New Yorkers. Last year, 381 New Yorkers became too sick to remain on the waiting list, and 539 died awaiting a transplant.
According to Martin Lustick, M.D., senior vice president and corporate medical director, of Excellus BCBS, our one excuse may be the perceived difficulty of actually becoming an organ donor.
"When I first saw the analysis, I thought this can't be right," said Lustick. "Then I realized that the numbers are less about New Yorkers being less inclined to donate organs, and more about the barriers that exist to becoming an organ donor in our state.”
One issue may be leaving our registration process in the hands of the state. According to donor advocacy groups, eight of the top 10 state registries are run by nonprofits, not city agencies.
Nationwide, the overall numbers of adults signed up for donation is also pretty abysmal. The study found that less than half of American adults (48 percent) are registered organ and tissue donors. On average in the U.S., 18 people die each day while awaiting a suitable donor. In 2013, 6,100 Americans died before receiving a transplant.
According to a 2013 article examining the decline in living organ donation, “financial disincentives during an economic slump may be another larger contributing factor to the downward trend in living donation.” Researchers also point out that changing health in the U.S. may play a factor in the lack of donations, including an uptick in diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
Some efforts have already been taken to boost our low local registration numbers. This past spring the New York state budget included funding to contract with a nonprofit organization in order to administer and modernize Donate Life Registry, an interagency workgroup dedicated to increasing organ, eye, and tissue donations. A goal of the agency is to "spread the word" about being a registered donor, reaching out to the public through social media, posting print ads to increase knowledge of the donation process, and distributing brochures to educate potential donors.
“Greater education about the need for organ and tissue donations and improving the process to become a donor will help save lives,” Lustick said.
To make an organ and tissue donation available in your name, New York residents can enroll in the Donate Life Registry when they register to vote or obtain or renew a driver’s license. Adults in New York state also can enroll as donors anytime, online, at my.dmv.ny.gov, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Web portal, or by completing a registration form available at health.ny.gov.