| State

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Proposed update to Pennsylvania organ donor law draws concerns

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Daily Photo Galleries

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Staff and Wire Reports
Tuesday, May 13, 2014, 11:06 p.m.

HARRISBURG — An effort to update Pennsylvania's organ donation law drew concerns at a legislative hearing Tuesday from state prosecutors and coroners who said the proposal could interfere with their responsibility to investigate deaths.

Supporters told the House Family Law Subcommittee that the changes would incorporate practices currently being used in most other states and that the bill would save lives by making it less common for usable organs to be wasted. A similar measure is pending in the state Senate.

The bill would standardize practices that can vary widely across the state, “from county to county and from election to election,” said Howard Nathan, president of the Gift of Life Donor Program, which coordinates transplants in the eastern part of the state. The Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE) in O'Hara serves Western Pennsylvania.

“We've got to save more lives, because people die every year,” said Nathan, who told the panel the bill would not change the authority of law enforcement and the coroners.

David Freed, the Cumberland County district attorney and president of the state prosecutors' association, told lawmakers his group had a recent productive meeting with organ donation experts to try to address some of the concerns about how the proposed changes might affect investigations.

“We don't see this as a battle so much as an opportunity to work together to get best bill we can,” Freed said.

He described a recent case in which a Clearfield County child's organ donation status became a legal dispute after the body was sent to a hospital in Pittsburgh, and competing court orders resulted. He said that scenario was likely to occur again unless the law is changed or the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association raised questions about how the wishes of donors affect how and when autopsies can be ordered.

There are currently about 8,500 people on the state's organ transplant waiting list, the great majority waiting for kidneys. In recent years there have been about 1,300 transplants annually in Pennsylvania, while about 400 people on the waiting list die every year.

Procurement organizations across the country operate a lucrative trade in donated organs and tissues such as bones and skin, a Tribune-Review investigation reported in its 2013. The nonprofits posted an annual surplus of $929 million, paid top executives an average of $320,000 in salary and spent taxpayer money on lavish parties and retreats.

Separately, money donated by Pennsylvania drivers that was supposed to go to the families of organ donors for medical and burial expenses never has been paid out, the Trib revealed. Instead, the money has been diverted for organ donation marketing campaigns and other costs.

Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, a sponsor of the bill and the representative who led the hearing, said the major issues are making sure the donor has given his or her informed consent, jurisdiction over in deaths that involve more than one county, and the effect on criminal investigations.

“I think all of these can be appropriately worked out,” Cutler said.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.



Show commenting policy

Most-Read Pennsylvania

  1. Pennsylvania Senator Casey pushes for railroad bridge inspectors
  2. Feds accuse Philadelphia congressman Fattah of corruption
  3. Va. trucker hit  Mega Millions jackpot in Pa.
  4. Medical pot has advocate in Pennsylvania House
  5. Pa. man gets life in prison for girlfriend’s ‘obscene’ slaying
  6. Boy youngest to receive double-hand transplant in Philadelphia
  7. Teen could spend 10 years in prison for role in injuring Ohio teacher