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COL New law will help save lives

Organ donation wishes become legally binding

A new state law that took effect this month could help save the lives of dozens of people awaiting organ transplants in Minnesota.

Under the measure, families cannot legally interfere with the written wishes of people who have made known they want their organs donated in the event of brain death.

We believe the new law is a good one. Transplant surgeons and organ procurement officials say many more people would be saved by transplants if not for the interference of family members who overrule the written wishes of potential donors.

However, even more people could be saved if more people expressed on their driver's licenses their desire to have organs donated after death.

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Medical care has advanced to the point where artificial devices, such as joints and valves, can improve and prolong the lives of those suffering from various physical infirmities. But transplantation is still the only long-term medical answer for most of those with failing organs. And there are far more people on transplant waiting lists than there are organs available.

According to LifeSource, the non-profit organ procurement agency that serves Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, about 75,000 people are awaiting life-saving transplants in the United States. But only about 20,000 transplants are performed each year. The agency estimates that an average of 15 people die each day while waiting for organs to become available.

LifeSource says organs from one donor can help up to eight people awaiting transplants at seven medical centers in the tri-state area, including Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Organs that can be transplanted include the heart, liver, pancreas and intestines. The non-profit procurement agency says the three-year survival rate has risen to 95 percent for kidney transplant recipients; 92 percent for pancreas recipients; 91 percent for those who receive heart transplants, and 90 percent for liver transplant recipients. The success rate for heart-lung transplants is 81 percent, and 76 percent for those who receive transplanted lungs only.

Unfortunately, Minnesota has lagged behind the rest of the nation where organ donation is concerned. According to LifeSource, the number of organ donors in the state has been stuck at about 150 for the last decade, while nationally the number has increased about 20 percent during that same period.

Transplant officials say the new law will help, but they're not expecting the elimination of this one legal hurdle to cause a large increase in the number of donors. For that to happen, a larger segment of the population will have to be educated about organ procurement and donation. Currently, about 40 percent of drivers in Minnesota have indicated on their licenses that they are potential donors.

So, while the new law will help, it's obvious more needs to be done. State officials must do a better job of publicizing the need for people to make their organ donation wishes known, so they can give someone else a second chance to live a full and productive life.

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