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State effort to increase organ donations could help thousands of New Yorkers

It was good to see the initiative to increase organ donations recognized by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo as a top health care priority for the coming year.

In his State of the State address, Cuomo referred to the creation of a public-private partnership with the organ donation community to increase enrollment in the New York State Donate Life Registry. The issue resonates with UNYTS, Western New York’s nonprofit organ, eye, tissue and community blood center.

According to UNYTS, more than 100,000 people nationwide are waiting for a transplant, and 18 die every day because not enough organs are available. One organ or tissue donor can end up helping many patients, but more donors are needed.

New York State has only about 24 percent of its residents on the registry, much lower than the national average. Greater numbers of people enrolled in registries means sick people have a better chance of receiving a life-saving transplant.

As an example, The News has written about Tim Day, a Town of Tonawanda police officer who needs a heart transplant. His heart was ravaged by an autoimmune disease and he has been waiting for a transplant since last April. He has been in and out of the hospital many times and is now living with the help of an implanted heart pump, but needs a transplant if he is to resume a normal life.

The New York State Alliance for Donation, a nonprofit organization that encompasses all the organ tissue and eye banks in New York, is working with state government to foster a public-private partnership.

This may be the best hope to persuade more people to register. Such registration would be voluntary; transplant organizations do not support automatic, opt-in registration. That system assumes people to be donors unless they have specified otherwise, and is probably unwise given the backlash such a mandate would create.

The state Department of Health offers an online donor registry, and it is available online with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Signing the back of your driver’s license will allow organ donation, but does not enroll you in the registry used by hospitals and organ procurement organizations.

New York State is making education about organ donation a priority. Residents can do their part to help others by going to the registry and signing up.