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Stronger measures needed to encourage people to donate organs

on Tuesday, 27 March 2012.

Stronger measures needed to encourage people to donate organs

Every month, hundreds of Americans die while waiting for a new heart, liver or kidney. What a waste — considering that thousands of healthy organs are senselessly buried in cemeteries.

Why? Some people are too lazy to sign an organ donor card. Others, unbelievably, think doctors won't work as hard to save them if their organs can be harvested. Others find a way to embrace religious objections.

Clearly, arms need to be twisted.

One group, the NJ Sharing Network, is trying to do that. The network wants New Jersey to be the first state to let health insurers refuse transplant coverage to anyone who doesn't sign an organ donor card — leaving a nondonor on the hook for the cost of transplant surgery, easily hundreds of thousands of dollars. That plan is discussed in an article that starts on the front page of this section.

This proposal strikes us an excellent idea that only dips a toe in these waters. Israel goes further with a new law that gives wait-list priority to donors over nondonors. So if two patients are in line for the same kidney, the one who is willing to sacrifice his or her own organs gets first dibs. That, too, strikes us as entirely reasonable.

Yes, it is a shame that such heavy-handed moves are necessary to force people to get over their squeamishness about this, but that is the state of play. In New Jersey, roughly 5,000 people are waiting for transplants today, some of whom will probably die waiting. Add their friends and family, and you have an army of people who are deeply hurt by the reluctance to donate. And yet, more than two-thirds of us have not agreed to donate needed organs.

That's why a bigger stick is needed. The NJ Sharing Network is shopping for a legislator to sponsor its proposal, called the Golden Rule Act. The principle behind it is simple: If you're willing to accept a donated organ, you must be ready to donate your own when you die.

It is illegal in America to pay money for an organ. And that ban is probably necessary. It is simply too easy to imagine a world where the rich buy the kidneys of the poor, trading on their desperation or poverty, as happens in some developing countries. That would demean us as a nation and open the door to inevitable scandal.

But the Golden Rule Act is a reasonable way to induce people to donate. It would save lives. And our hope is that some legislator has the courage to step up and embrace it as lead sponsor.

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