Commissioners Novello and Jackson Announce New Organ and Tissue Donor Registry

Both Commissioners Sign–Up for Statewide Computerized Registry to Encourage Organ and Tissue Donations

Albany, June 21, 2000 – State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. and Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Richard E. Jackson, Jr. today announced the kick off of the New York State Organ and Tissue Donor Registry, a statewide computer registry of those who wish to donate their organs and tissues upon their death. In an effort to encourage other New Yorkers to sign–up for the registry, both Commissioner Novello and Jackson showed their intent to donate by signing up for the donor registry.

"When faced with the emotional turmoil surrounding the sudden death of a loved one, many families are forced to grapple with the difficult decision of whether to donate their family member's organs or tissues, often without knowing what that family member would have wanted," Dr. Novello said. "Thanks to Governor Pataki's leadership and support for this important initiative, through the new registry, qualified professionals will be provided with instant information concerning a family member's intent to donate, ultimately making the family's decision easier."

Every day approximately 13 people die waiting for an organ transplant in the United States. When a donation is obtained, it is possible to transplant as many as 25 different organs and tissues, including hearts, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and intestine. Tissue transplants including, eyes, bone, skin, heart valves, tendons and veins can fight infections in burn victims, prevent the loss of limbs and restore eyesight.

"Every year, thousands of families lose a loved one because vital organs and tissues are not available," Commissioner Jackson said. "The DMV will be aiding this effort by providing information on organ and tissue donation. Assisting in this life–giving program and educating New Yorkers about the importance of becoming a donor will prove invaluable in saving lives."

Currently, permission from a person's family is required before organ and tissue donation can occur. In many cases, a family member's intent to donate is unclear or unknown and because of that family members may be reluctant to authorize donation.

The purpose of the registry is to record an individual's intent to donate organs and tissues in the event of his or her death. As a result, families are most likely to give consent when they know what their loved ones would have wanted to do so.

A single donor can save or dramatically improve the lives of many people. Currently, nearly 70,000 people are on organ donor waiting lists nationwide and almost 7,000 of these people are residents of New York. In 1998, more than 21,000 organ transplants were completed nationwide with more than 10,000 people donating. Despite the 150,000 people a year whose lives are improved through tissue donation, tissue shortages continue.

The NYS Organ and Tissue Donor Registry, which will be administered by the New York State Department of Health (DOH), is a computerized listing of all New York State residents who check the "donor" box on their Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) new driver license, driver license renewal or non–driver identification card application, or file a New York State Uniform Donor registry enrollment card. In addition, people can register through the Department of Health web site.

James J. Barba, Chairman of the Board of Directors and President and Chief Executive Officer of the Albany Medical Center said, "This new program will save lives by creating and maintaining a single, computerized registry of potential donors that can be accessed readily to determine an individual's wishes. The Departments of Health and Motor Vehicles are to be commended for working closely together to make this a reality."

Assemblyman Jim Conte, who also served as a member of the New York State Task Force to Increase Organ and Tissue Donation, said, "As a two–time kidney transplant recipient, I am living proof of the benefits of organ donation. I want to thank Governor Pataki and Commissioners Novello and Jackson for their leadership on this life–saving issue. Working together, we can and we will save lives."

Frank Taft, Director for the Center for Donation & Transplant, said "At the time of their loss, very often the family is unaware of their loved one's wishes with regard to organ/tissue donation. A family discussion involving their final wishes may have never taken place. This registry will allow everyone the opportunity to let their loved ones know what their wishes were upon death."

Dr. Charles M. Miller, Director of the Recanati/Miller Transplantation Institute at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Chairman of the New York State Task Force to Increase Organ and Tissue Donation said, "The Task Force is deeply grateful to Governor George Pataki and to Commissioners Novello and Jackson for their roles in helping this Donor Registry become a reality. The benefit of this ground–breaking and much–needed program is twofold: it will increase public awareness and it will save lives. As a transplantation surgeon, I witness first–hand the many lives saved or improved by organ and tissue donation. But I also know all too well that the need far outnumbers supply."

Dr. Novello said that providing families with an opportunity to fulfill the wishes of their loved one, to save other people's lives, can provide great comfort in their time of grief. Registry information is kept strictly confidential and is only shared with the federally regulated organ procurement agencies and New York State licensed tissue banks and hospitals.

The most common misconception surrounding organ donation is that some individuals believe that signing a donor card or indicating "donor" on a drivers' license is enough. A family discussion must follow the signing of the donation intent. People thinking about donating are advised to discuss it with family members. This will serve to confirm the donor's wishes and facilitate the process of the gift of life.

Information about becoming an organ or tissue donor is available on the New York State Department of Health web site at: www.health.state.ny.us. The registry, called "Life…Pass It On," began June 1, 2000.

"New Yorkers have always been the first to care about others and give of themselves," Dr. Novello said. "This innovative effort is designed to provide valuable information to families at a difficult time, giving them the knowledge that their decision may give another person a chance at life."

6/21/00–69 OPA