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College freshmen in New York develop plan to encourage more organ donors

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Posted at 11:24 AM, Jan 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-04 14:24:14-05

EAST AURORA, N.Y. — It all started with a high school club, now their legislation is being brought to the New York State Assembly.

Grace Tapani, Even Roden, and Henry Mclaughlin all were members of the Donate Life Club at East Aurora High School. The club grew really quickly with the majority of the high school participating in blood drives.

"And if you can get high schoolers to care, you can really get anyone to care," Tapani said.

As they learned more, they knew they needed to do more. Roden said while studies show between 85% and 95% of New Yorkers are interested in becoming organ donors, only about 37% of people do. That's the lowest opt-in rate of any state or country.

"[Of that 37%,] 35 out of 1000 of them pass away in a specific way that allows them to donate their organs, and only one-third of them have a successful transplant into another person," Roden said.

Roden had the idea to draft legislation to make a change to the way people sign up to become organ donors.

Right now, the option to become an organ donor is one of the last choices you make when you get your license. You click a box to opt-in.

Roden's proposal is to instead give everyone the option to opt-out. He said the goal is to call more attention to the question.

"The new system will add this page to the front of the driver's license handbook. It will be stated by the commissioner directly to you and you'll receive a letter in the mail telling you about your recent sign-up and give you the option to sign out," Roden said.

The trio started presenting their proposal to local state assembly members.

"It was good to show that we were there. We're there in the sense that we can push our own legislation. We can push our own agenda," Mclaughlin said.

Their efforts got the attention of Assemblyman David DiPietro. They're hoping when the assembly reconvenes Jan. 6, there will be enough support for this to pass, despite previous failed efforts by other lawmakers with a similar proposal.

"New Yorkers can save other New Yorkers. I think they can put their own differences aside and realize saving someone's life is really the most important thing you can do," Mclaughlin said.

This story was first published by Olivia Proia at WKBW in Buffalo, New York.