Texas bill aims to make organ donation opt-out, sparking debate

A new bill would change the way Texans opt to be organ donors on their driver licenses. KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard
A new bill would change the way Texans opt to be organ donors on their driver licenses. (KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A public hearing of House Bill 1938, which would change the way Texans get on the organ donor registry through their driver’s license, was held at the House Transportation Committee Thursday morning.

Registering through driver’s licenses is the primary way Texans enter the donor registry.

Currently, Texas residents must opt in to be placed on the donor registry during their driver’s license process. HB 1938 would instead automatically place all adults on the driver’s license process on the registry, unless they opt out.

Under this bill, each applicant will have to answer the question, “Would you like to refuse to join the organ donor registry?” Applicants who answer no or simply don’t answer will automatically be enrolled.

Michelle Segovia of Texas Organs Sharing Alliance said her organization is opposed to this bill. In part, she said, the wording of the question on the application goes against the “check yes to donate” campaigns Texas has used for the past 12 years.

“We feel that the opt out bill is not the answer, we feel it would stop our growth, right when we’re growing and have a ton of momentum going at a million registered users a year,” Segovia said.

She is not alone. Suzy Miller of Donate Life Texas said her organization also opposes the bill.

“Every organ, eye, and tissue donation organization in the state is opposed to this with the exception of the programs that cannot take a stand on this issue because of their ties to state universities,” said Miller.

Carmen Polhemus of Wimberley also attended the hearing Thursday to express her opposition. Her son Daniel was killed in a car crash in 2005 when he was 19 years old, and her family decided to donate his organs. She said that next to her faith, the donation process was her single source of comfort in dealing with her son’s death.

“On the surface, the bill looks like it makes sense and would open opportunities, in reality and practice it is gonna make the system much more complicated, there is too much opportunity for confusion on the drivers license part, and people will check yes when they really meant no,” Polhemus said.

Pohlemus has watched Texas’ donation registry grow since her son’s death. Texas’ Glenda Dawson Donate Life registry was implemented in 2005, the same year her son died.

But Dr. Rick Snyder, a cardiologist at Medical City Dallas, testified in favor of HB 1938 on behalf of the Texas Medical Association Thursday. Snyder believes Texas should take the opt-out strategy to boost the state’s donor registry.

“What we don’t have is the donation registration when you compare us to other countries, even other states, we are under-performing. In the state of Texas we have 47 percent of those eligible have actually registered compared to the national average in the united states that’s 51 percent, we’re under-performing,” Snyder said.

He explained that he’s seen patients who’ve waited years for organs, and that having an automatic opt in will help add more donors to the registry. He cited the success of opt out donation programs in other countries.

“If you talk with the average 600 or 700 families each year who the system is not working for, who have a loved one who died waiting for an organ, I don’t think they’d agree with you that it worked for them,” Snyder said.

The House Transportation Committee left the bill pending.

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