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Transplants: New Law Broadens Donor Option

By Katherine Dinsdale |

Last year across the nation, 20,000 potential organ donors were buried while hundreds of people in need of a life-saving transplant were unable to have one. Gallup polls show that most people are aware of and favor donation, yet only 3.000 people who died last year-less than 15 percent of potential donors- actually gave their vital organs so that others might live.

A bill approved by the legislature in April may help remedy the shortage of donors in Texas. The new bill, called the Routine Inquiry Statute, makes Texas the thirty-first state to require that every hospital inform the next of kin of the option to donate organs or tissue, unless such a transplant is deemed unfeasible for medical reasons. If no next of kin is located, a judge can make a ruling on donation.

Dr. Ingemar Dawidson, associate director of the kidney and pancreatic transplantation unit at Parkland, is excited about the bill because there are few organ donors at Parkland and because each year many deaths occur that might be prevented if suitable donors could be located. Although Dallas is among the top three cities in the country in the number of kidney transplants, awareness of the need for organs and tissue is still limited, even among medical personnel. “You would think a place like Parkland would get lots of donations, but last year we received only twenty-five kidneys from deceased patients,” Dawidson says. “Methodist Hospital collected sixty kidneys.”

Socioeconomic and educational levels have a major bearing on attitudes toward donating, says Claude O. Maples, a resident chaplain at Parkland. Although attitudes are changing as more successful transplant stories are told, preconceived notions and miseducation about how the donor’s body will be treated make the subject particularly difficult to discuss. But Maples says younger people’s attitudes toward donating are dramatically different from those of the older patients and family members he sees.

Echoing the views of many health professionals, Dawidson says it’s better to lose an organ or tissue than to further upset a family. “We are not chasing organs.” Dawidson says. “This law will only formalize what we’ve been trying to encourage all along.”