HED: Organ transplant bill clears Legislature
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON - A bill designed to increase the number of vital organ donations in Mississippi has passed both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature.
On Wednesday, the state Senate passed a bill that would establish a procedure where hospitals contact trained personnel to talk with the families of potential organ donors. The bill passed the Senate unanimously.
Earlier in the session, a similar bill passed the state House 119-0. Legislative leaders from the two chambers now will have to meet to decide which bill to send to Gov. Kirk Fordice.
Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, who explained the bill on the Senate floor, said if not for "an unselfish family" who donated the cornea of a deceased family member, he would be blind. Nunnelee lost his eyesight while in college at Mississippi State and underwent a cornea transplant to regain vision.
He has since undergone a similar operation to maintain his eyesight.
"For me, blindness would be an inconvenience - a hardship," Nunnelee said. "For many Mississippians, it is not a matter of inconvenience or hardship, but a matter of life or death."
Nunnelee told Senate members that David Oliver of Tupelo, who came to Jackson earlier this session to voice support for the bill, recently had a double lung transplant and was doing well.
But many other Mississippians still are waiting for the donation of vital organs, such as heart, lungs, kidneys or liver.
Tina Burtt, a Tupelo native who is the Gulf Coast coordinator of the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency, said there were only 33 donations of vital organs last year while there were more than 500 state citizens on a waiting list.
Current state law makes it difficult to get people to donate. Under that law, the doctor can approach family members about the possibility of an organ donation when they think it is appropriate.
"It is often difficult for a doctor to do this," Burtt said in an earlier interview. "The doctor has been in a lifesaving role and then is asked to go to a family and say now that this person is dead do you want to consider organ donation."
The bill would require hospitals to contact members of the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency who would travel to the hospital to explain the option of donation to the family.
During consideration of the bill, many legislators have been surprised to learn that the decision on whether a person is an organ donor rests with the next of kin.
The space on the back of drivers' license where a person can say he wants to be an organ donor upon death carries no weight except to inform the next of kin.
The ultimate decision is up the next of kin.
The bill does not change that.