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The donor fund: A better accounting

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Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

By not delivering the benefits that the state led contributing motorists to expect it would provide, Pennsylvania's Gov. Robert P. Casey Memorial Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Fund has abused the public's trust.

Pennsylvanians giving $1 when renewing their vehicle registrations or driver's licenses have contributed about $10 million to the fund since 2000. About 10 percent supposedly was earmarked for organ donors' funeral and medical expenses, up to $3,000.

But a Trib investigation finds none of that money has been spent — and a smaller program to help living donors or deceased donors' families with hotel and meal bills, up to $300, has spent only $180,000 and hasn't reported results since 2011.

Shortly after 1994 legislation created the fund, the state Health Department's legal counsel decided payments from it could violate the federal organ-sales ban. State budget officials OK'd spending on organ-donor education and grants to organ-procurement groups instead.

State Rep. Joe Petrarca, D-Washington Township, has proposed updating the 1994 legislation to allow spending such money on medical, funeral and incidental expenses. That would enable the fund to meet the expectations that the state created in the minds of contributing motorists.

But to truly restore trust, the public needs to know why this fund's disconnect between expectations and reality has persisted so long — and how those responsible for such execrable deception are being held accountable.

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