New York Breaks Records—Not Hearts—in 2018

By: Bridget Clerkin February 4, 2019
By lowering the organ donation eligibility age, 55,000 16- and 17-year-old New Yorkers have signed up for the organ donation registry.
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New Yorkers are nothing if not ambitious, so when the state dedicated itself to organ donation awareness last year, it’s not surprising so many residents took the message to heart.

The Empire State smashed its own record when 604,163 new participants enrolled in its organ donation registry over the course of 2018. Marking a growth rate of 12.3%, the single-year total far surpasses any other that the state has seen since the registry was established in 2008. All told, the list of potential donors now includes more than 5.5 million people.

The healthy uptick may call for celebration, but not surprise: It was the express intention of a 2017 measure signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Called Lauren’s Law, the initiative lowered the legal age at which a person could consent to donate their organs, down from 18 to 16. And the move has already paid dividends, with more than 55,000 16- and 17-year-olds currently enrolled in the registry.

The bill also enshrined the question of whether or not a person wants to be an organ donor on applications for driver’s licenses, learner’s permits, and state IDs, requiring a yes or no answer from applicants. And it gave the state leeway to add the query on a number of other forms, including the New York State of Health application, New York City Municipal ID card paperwork, and voter registration forms.

The additional portals have been especially helpful, with roughly 1-in-5 new donors—or more than 116,000 people—enrolling through 1 of the 3 forms in 2018, according to the state.

Still, the push for donors represents more of a New York marathon, with the state still suffering from a significant organ shortage.

As of last year, New York has the 3rd-highest need for organ donors in the country, yet the 2nd-lowest percentage of registered donors. And the effects of those lopsided logistics can be devastating.

Of the nearly 9,500 residents on the state’s organ waiting list, more than 1,700 have been waiting 5 years or longer for the life-saving surgeries. Without that help, around 400 New Yorkers every year die or are removed from the list after becoming too ill to any longer be considered for the intensive procedures.

Yet with the new law already proving effective, many in the state are hopeful that more residents will find a heart—or whatever else they need—through the registry, and plenty of volunteers are vowing to continue spreading the word on the benefits of organ donation.

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