Highlighting Importance of Organ Donation and ‘National Donate Life Month’

Legislative Column by Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C-Corning)

As April winds down it is important to remember its significance as ‘National Donate Life Month.’ Since my first election back in 2010, raising awareness around organ donation has been a very personal issue to me and one of my top legislative priorities. The numbers have improved incrementally over the years, but we still have so much work to do. One of the most important statistics I shared this week on the Assembly floor was that one person who donates at the time of their death can save up to eight lives and impact the lives of 75 others.

According to Donate Life New York, our state ranks 50th out of 52 states and territories in total organ donor enrollment. We have a 46% enrollment rate while the national average is 63%. As a state, we have the third-greatest need for organs but the third-worst enrollment rate.

Nearly 8,100 New Yorkers are on the waiting list for a transplant, and 1,100 of those people have been waiting for at least five years. Tragically, in 2022, nearly 400 New Yorkers died while waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. We can, and must, do better!

These numbers have improved, but as previously stated, we must do better. We have taken helpful actions to make it easier to register to become an organ donor in New York state.I believe the more we ask the question “Do you want to be an organ donor?” the more New Yorkers will say “Yes.” Some of the successful steps we have taken over the years were the passage of ‘Lauren’s Law,’ which I was proud to co-sponsor, which does not allow the state to process a driver’s license application until the individual answers either ‘yes’ or ‘skip this question’ in regard to would they like to register as an organ donor. In addition to this important legislation that has boosted organ donor rates, we have also passed legislation to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to register their intent to become organ donors along with creating a new online donor registry that allows individuals to officially register to become an organ donor.

One of my proudest moments as a father was when I saw my children come home with their first driving permits and on the card it said they were organ donors. As I mentioned this is a deeply personal issue to me. I have seen first-hand how organ donation can impact the quality of life of a family. You see, my sister, Teresa, was a juvenile diabetic and that disease took its toll on her body and organs over her lifetime. Teresa was a two-time organ transplant recipient. First, from the kindness of a stranger in 2000. and second, I had the privilege to donate a kidney to my sister in 2006. Unfortunately, Teresa passed away in 2013 at the age of 50. Despite Teresa’s death, I still tell people she was a lucky one. She received two transplants.I never knew how bad the numbers were in New York until I was elected in 2010 and saw how bad they truly were. These statistics certainly were eye-opening and motivated me to do more to promote education and awareness on this life-saving issue. As I said, Teresa was lucky to receive two transplants.Unfortunately, too many people die while waiting for that life-changing organ transplant. Working together we can continue to improve these numbers and help save lives. And please remember, “one person can make a difference” because just one person who donates at the time of their death can save up to eight lives and impact the lives of 75 others.

April is ‘National Donate Life Month,’ but I urge you to talk about this issue year-round,not just in April. We all have the opportunity to save someone’s life on any given day of the year. If you have already registered to become an organ donor, thank you. If you have not, please talk to your family and consider it. If you are interested in becoming an organ donor today, visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office or please register at Donate Life New York today. Thank you and let’s continue to work together to help save lives.