State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Streamlining organ donation prompts turf concerns from law enforcement

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | May 13, 2014 9:55 PM
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Photo by Mary Wilson / witf

Pennsylvania became a national model with a 1994 law to facilitate organ donations, but efforts to update the law, as scores of other states have done in recent years, has left lawmakers grappling with how to strike the right balance between saving lives and honoring deaths.

People who work with organ donor programs say transplants are in such high demand, and donations are so rare, that when someone is an organ donor and dies, procuring the organ should take priority.

"We can't lose just one donor," said Howard Nathan, president of the Gift of Life Donor Program, which serves transplant centers in eastern Pennsylvania. "We want to make sure that a family's willing to say yes, or an individual has already said yes on the donor designation, that person should become a donor."

Coroners and law enforcement object, saying streamlining the process has the potentially to interfere with death investigations.

"We can't do justice in a case or for a victim if the underlying investigation is incomplete or compromised," said Dave Freed, Cumberland County District Attorney and president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. He testified before a House committee Tuesday on proposed changes to the organ donation law.

Measures in the House and Senate have prompted the same concerns from law enforcement. Lawmakers say they've addressed those concerns, ensuring that coroners will have the final say over whether an organ can be taken from a deceased person.

But Freed and others - like victims' advocates -- say the legislation still has problems.

Ellen Kramer, with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said she supports organ donation but not at the expense of a deceased person's loved ones.

"We can't overlook the likelihood of trauma to surviving children and other family members as a result of the organ procurement process that may fail to prioritize the needs of survivors," Kramer said.

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