Bill to automatically enroll residents as organ donors draws criticism

Bill to automatically enroll residents as organ donors draws criticism


HARTFORD — Looking to increase the supply of available organ donations for those on waiting lists, Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr. is proposing a change that would automatically enroll Connecticut residents.

Residents currently can choose to become a donor while getting or renewing their driver’s license, but Kennedy, D-Branford, is proposing that they instead be considered donors unless they opt out.

According to, a website maintained by the federal government, 119,000 people nationwide are currently on a waiting list for donations.

“I just wanted to put out an idea that would really spark a needed discussion,” Kennedy said Thursday. According to the website, 95 percent of adults support organ donation, but only 48 percent sign up to become a donor.

The bill has also drawn criticism from people who support the intention but worry about the effects of automatic enrollment, something Kennedy said he expected would happen.

“I knew this proposal was controversial,” he said.

Alexandra K. Glazer, president of New England Donor Services, Inc., is concerned that requiring residents to opt out could actually result in fewer donors.

Glazer said many European countries experience drops in donors after adopting an opt-out requirement. Medical organizations also expressed concerns about legal complications.

The Connecticut Hospital Association, Glazer, and others, said that federal laws on medical policy place an emphasis on communication with family members of people in medical care.

“If Connecticut changes to opt-out consent, it seems there would be no reason to engage with or consult families, including if the family objects to the donation, or if the would-be donor is a child,” CHA wrote in written testimony submitted as part of a public hearing last month.

The Connecticut Nurses Association, meanwhile, expressed concern that the vast majority of residents won’t fully understand the implications, estimating that only 12 percent of the public is “health literate.”

“If people want to donate their organs after death, I have no problem with that at all, but it should not be coercive in any way,” said Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden.

Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, said he agrees with the intent, but added that the solution is more awareness of the issue.

“It’s a bill that would seem to indicate that the state owns your body unless you say otherwise,” Markley said.

When asked about the criticism, Kennedy reiterated that his intention was to start a discussion and that he’s open to other solutions.

Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, himself the recipient of a donated kidney in late December, has proposed a tax credit of up to $10,000 for donors.

Kennedy co-sponsored Looney’s bill, but said it’s a benefit that only entices donations from people who are living, something that it limited to healthy people willing to offer a kidney, lung, or part of the liver, intestines, or pancreas.

Looney, who co-sponsored Kennedy’s bill, couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.

“There are people right now who are sitting at home, waiting for a phone call for a possible donor, and meanwhile we’re burying hundreds of people every day with perfectly good organs who could have donated those organs,” Kennedy said. 203-317-2266 Twitter: @reporter_savino

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