Jane Snyder, a surgical recovery coordinator with LifeSource, carried a cooler box that contained a donated kidney to an awaiting courier for air transport.

Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

New state law aims to increase organ donors

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA
  • Star Tribune
  • December 30, 2011 - 11:29 PM

Being above average isn't good enough for Minnesota advocates of organ donation, who hope to use a new state law that takes effect Sunday to boost the number of donors in the state.

The law to raise money for a donor awareness campaign is one of several new measures that take effect with the new year. Sixty percent of Minnesotans are registered donors, which is above the national average but below states such as Washington, where 74 percent of residents are registered.

Washington already has a law like that approved by the 2011 Minnesota Legislature. When Minnesotans apply for or renew a driver's license or a state identification card, they will be asked whether they want to contribute $2 to a donor awareness campaign. The same question will be asked when they register or transfer title on a motor vehicle.

Rep. Sarah Anderson, the Plymouth Republican who co-authored the law, said she was made aware of the issue by a constituent whose husband benefited from organ donation. She said that eight states have a similar program and that their donor participation rates tend to be higher than Minnesota's.

"There is no greater gift than giving another person the opportunity for life," Anderson said.

LifeSource, a nonprofit group that manages organ donations and most tissue donations in Minnesota, the Dakotas and western Wisconsin, is one of the organizations that will benefit from the new law.

LifeSource has produced videos about organ donation that are used in driver's education classes and has run ad campaigns, as well. Becky Ousley, LifeSource senior public relations coordinator, said teenagers are the most likely to be designated donors on driver's licenses (parents need to approve that status until drivers reach age 18).

License renewal forms already include a line asking whether drivers want to be donors, and state Driver and Vehicle Services offices have brochures and other information available. But Ousley said more outreach is needed.

"Adult men in their 40s to 60s are most likely to be a donor, but the least likely to have 'donor' on their licenses," she said.

Why is a bit of a mystery, Ousley said. Typically, women tend to make health care decisions in families, she said, and there's some speculation that men are more superstitious about such decisions or just don't want to think about it.

Ousley said LifeSource won't know what kind of campaign it might run until it knows how much money the program raises. A new campaign likely would again target middle-age men but would try to reach others as well, she said. LifeSource has used television, radio, billboards and signs on the sides of buses for previous outreach.

"We're excited to see how it goes and how it's received," she said.

Additional new laws

Other state laws that take effect Sunday include ones that modernize how insurance claims are processed, update nursing home reimbursement rates to fit federal requirements, and require testing of driver's license applicants about their knowledge of carbon monoxide dangers.

The carbon monoxide measure was dubbed "Tyler's law" after the 2010 death of University of Minnesota student Tyler Lavers. Lavers was installing stereo speakers in his car when he backed the vehicle into a garage for better access to tools and lighting and apparently turned the ignition on to test the speakers. Even though the door was open, he died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

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