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State lawmaker, coroners disagree on proposed organ donation act


By: Maria Miller

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- It's proposed legislation 6 News reported on last week that that has coroners and prosecutors across the state up in arms -- House Bill 30, or the Donate Life PA Act, is aimed at making more organs available for the nearly 500 Pennsylvanians who die every year waiting on a transplant list. Lawmakers say it will provide more awareness and education, clarify who is able to make a donation and streamline the process.
6 News found the bill is controversial. Both sides have their own opinions and don't seem to be talking it out.
Coroners and district attorneys across the state and their prospective associations are absolutely allowed to have their opinions on proposed legislation, but the lawmaker who proposed the bill said he doesn't think they understand it. The state Coroner's Association told 6 News it's read the bill loud and clear.
"There is nothing to make (organ donation) opt-in or opt-out," said Susan Stuart, president and CEO of the Center for Organ Recovery and Education.  
That's in stark contrast to what Cambria County coroner and current board member of the PA Coroner's Association, Dennis Kwiatkowski, told 6 News last week.
"Basically what it does is takes the decision making away from families," Kwiatkowski said. "It makes you an organ donor, implies you're an organ donor, unless you have a form that basically says you are not."
Lawmakers said that's just not true. Democratic State Rep. Joseph Petrarca, who proposed the house bill last year, said it would not make everyone in the state an implied donor as the coroners' association seems to think.
"Nowhere does (the bill) say that it sets up situation of implied consent or a situation that you are organ donor till you opt out," Petrarca said. "The legislation just does not do that."
But he never said it wouldn't prevent organ procurement organizations, like CORE, from asking family members of the deceased for organs.
In fact, that's part of the process the bill lays out.  
"The process is very clear, (If) you have not registered to be a donor, then that means we have to go to your next of kin and that would be, if you're married, your spouse and if not married, your parents," Stuart said. "It's very clear in the priority by whom we have to obtain authorization to carry out the organ recovery. We would not be permitted to just recover your organs."
"The coroner has a right to deny an organ donation if he or she chooses," Petrarca said. "Nowhere in the bill does it take away any jurisdiction from coroners."
The coroners association disagrees. It's legislative liaison told 6 News she's repeatedly gone over the bill line by line and said because organs need to be harvested and living for transplant, the bill basically takes the autopsy away; therefore, impeding death investigations.
"According to the bill, it is up to the organ procurement agency, in other words CORE or Gift of Life, to determine when the individual is dead enough that they can take the organs while they're still living," Susan Shanaman said. "I don't know how you do an autopsy when the organs aren't there anymore."
"I don't think the coroners understand the legislation," Petrarca said. "I have been asking to meet with them for three years now and they have refused to meet with me to even discuss legislation."
"Frankly what we've gotten are demands, not a request to negotiate," Shanaman said. "It's been, 'You tell us what you want to change and we will look at it and see if we agree'."
Petrarca was adamant in that nothing would change when it comes to the coroner's duties. But the coroners association doesn't agree and is standing by its opinion that the bill is taking away their rights, people's choice and the families decision.
Follow the link below to read the bill in its entirety:

State lawmaker, coroners disagree on proposed organ donation act

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