Rep Jose Cambrils My Turn: Deceased donor rights in New Hampshire

As of March 15, 2021, a new federal policy went into effect that totally diminished hope for New Hampshire residents who are on the current Transplant Wait List.

The federal government’s contracted agency UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing), which is responsible for deceased donor organ distribution throughout the U.S., made a significant policy change that devastated prospective New Hampshire organ recipients by expanding the “consideration zone” to a 250 nautical mile radius around a donor hospital.

This means most organs harvested in the Granite State are now going to big metropolitan cities in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Those states with their large populations now fall within the new zone. These urban areas have very lengthy waitlists with much longer wait times and virtually no organs are being offered to New Hampshire citizens since this policy took effect.

As someone who was on dialysis for almost four years while also on the waitlist for a kidney transplant opportunity, I’ll state that this new policy is a punch in the gut and discriminatory to New Hampshire people.

I was blessed to have received a life-saving kidney transplant in February of 2020. But, if I were still on the waitlist today, I would no longer have any reasonable expectation of getting a deceased donor organ. It should be noted that for every year a patient is on dialysis, there is a cumulative 7% increase in the probability that they will die while waiting for a transplant.

The good news for our New Hampshire citizens is that I introduced HB 583 in the 2021 session. HB 583 would allow registered New Hampshire drivers that sign up to be organ donors the ability to direct their donation to local residents first.

We have a long tradition of “neighbor helping neighbor” in this great state. Our drivers’ licenses are legal documents that citizens are able to use to designate where they’d prefer their organs to be utilized via the DMV database. A New Hampshire-first policy will be made an option with this legislation.

Then, if any organs could not be matched with a Granite State recipient, the organs would go to the next closest state with a matching patient. This issue is all about a private individual’s right to designate their organs after death. No federal or state government or agency has the ownership of a citizen’s organs.

The bill passed the House Transportation Committee with a unanimous, bipartisan, 19-0 vote in October 2021. Then on Jan. 5, 2022, it passed the full NH House with a unanimous 353-0 voice vote. It is now in the hands of the NH Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

I sincerely hope the Senate will see fit to move HB 583 forward so that Gov. Sununu can review it and hopefully sign it into law. This critical life-saving bill will restore the only hope that our transplant list citizens will have.

If we turn this bill into law, New Hampshire will once again be “first in the nation” in ensuring that neighbors get the first opportunities to receive these gifts of life from fellow Granite Staters. Please let the Senate know that you support HB 583, and help out your New Hampshire friends and families in need of an organ.

(Jose’ Eduardo Cambrils is a state representative for Merrimack County District 9. He lives in Loudon.)

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