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Allowing younger teenagers to consent to organ donation could be a lifesaver

New York State’s 16- and 17-year-olds now have the opportunity to make a lifesaving decision after winning the ability to consent to become an organ donor.

This is an important decision and one that should not be made lightly. While these minors still need a parent’s consent, the change may very well help pull New York up from its status as having the nation’s lowest percentage of residents signed up to become organ donors.

Now that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has signed a bill dropping the age of consent for organ, eye and tissue donations from 18 to 16, the odds may improve for patients on transplant waiting lists.

The legislation, which passed this spring 133-4 in the Assembly and 59-1 in the Senate, brings New York in line with 47 other states. It means everything to the 10,042 people in New York on a waiting list for an organ transplant, 8,200 of them in need of a kidney.

The critical lack of donors in this state motivated people like Tom Jasinski, who received a kidney from his wife’s cousin, to found an organization called One8Fifty to increase the number of registered organ donors. The name refers to the often-mentioned statistic that organs from one donor can save the lives of up to eight individuals and the tissue and eyes from the same person can help as many as 50 others.

Parents should not worry that a child will do something against his or her own interests or cultural or religious beliefs. The new law permits parents of 16- and 17-year-olds to revoke a child’s consent. Building a network of givers needs to start at an early age. In New York State, where 88 percent of donor registrants come through driver’s license applications with the Department of Motor Vehicles, it is especially important.

More New Yorkers now have the opportunity to save lives, and more should be encouraged to become organ donors. As Aisha M. Tator, executive director of the New York Alliance for Donation, said: “This is New York catching up with the rest of the nation and addressing a public health crisis.”

Parents and children should have a conversation about organ donation, even though it may be an uncomfortable topic. Parents understandably don’t want to contemplate the death of a child. But if the unthinkable happens, they would be comforted knowing that their child wanted to help others.

Consenting to become an organ donor is a selfless act that should be encouraged.

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