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System Helps Organ Donors Sign Up

A new online registry program linked to the DMV is expected to dramatically increase the state's pool and shorten transplant lists.

July 11, 2006|Juliet Chung | Times Staff Writer

Hoping to significantly increase California's pool of organ and tissue donors, officials announced Monday a new system that will make it easier to sign up.

Those applying for or renewing a driver's license or ID card can now register by checking "yes" at the organ and tissue donor option. The decision has legal standing and is automatically transmitted to the state's donor registry, taking the decision about whether to donate out of a family's hands.

Previously, the California DMV asked potential donors to affix a pink sticker to their driver's license and fill out a registration card.

But the sticker, which was meant to indicate the person's wishes, sometimes fell off and did not have legal standing. And the registration card was often incomplete or could not be found, jeopardizing a donation.

That meant grieving families were often asked to make a difficult decision they might not have considered. Families decline to donate more than 40% of the time, donation officials said.

"Now, for the first time, each and every one of the 23 million licensed California drivers will have an effective, legally binding way to donate life," said Tracy Bryan, president of Donate Life California, the registry's nonprofit administrator.

She noted that 1% of licensed drivers in California are registered donors, whereas in some of the other states that have partnered with their DMVs, that figure is as high as 70%.

"We are aiming high; we want that 70% here in California," Bryan said. "I think Californians are ready for a system that makes sure their decision to donate life is honored."

Individuals signing up to donate under the new system can change their minds or place limitations on what they wish to donate after their information has been sent to the registry.

Potential donors can also sign up directly with the registry at www.donatelifecalifornia.org. Since its inauguration in April 2005, 300,000 people have registered.

Bryan said the new system, which quietly launched July 1, has already proved effective. In its first week, 25,000 donors signed up -- a 700% increase in the number who signed up weekly directly through the registry's website, she said.

State DMV Director George Valverde said the number of new registrants is expected to increase exponentially as the promotional campaign continues.

The pink donor sticker will be retained to indicate an individual's preferences, he added. But it will be placed under the laminate of licenses and cards to prevent it from falling off.

The new system has the potential to shorten transplant waiting lists, currently some of the longest in the country, said Thomas Mone, chief executive of OneLegacy, the federally designated organ recovery agency serving the Los Angeles area. About 20,000 are on the lists.

One person can save up to eight lives through organ donations and improve 50 others through tissue donations, he added.

Lawmakers and family members on Monday praised the new registration system.

"Our vote that led to the successful passage and signing of SB 689 last year, I believe, was the most important vote that I and my colleagues cast in my six years in the state Assembly," said Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood), referring to the Senate bill that created the new registration system.

"I believe it will save thousands of lives."

Hooshang Torabi, a DMV employee from Canoga Park whose wife received a kidney from their daughter, said he hoped it would encourage more individuals to donate.

"It's a gift of life, a gift of hope," he said. "Please be an angel like my daughter."

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