TRENTON - New Jersey would require applicants for driver's licenses and identification cards to state whether they want to be organ donors under legislation unveiled this week by a top legislator.
Senate President Richard J. Codey and organ-donation advocates said New Jersey would be one of the first states to force people to decide whether to donate their organs.
"We are mandating a discussion, one that can and will save lives and make everyone a hero," said Codey (D., Essex).
About 95,000 people in the United States await organ donations, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
Howard M. Nathan, president and chief executive officer of the Gift of Life Donor Program, said Codey's legislation - which he called unprecedented by a state - was acknowledgment "that public policy supporting organ and tissue donation is no longer adequate."
New Jersey asks license and identification applicants if they want to be organ donors, but they are not required to answer.
Codey's bill would require applicants to answer whether they wanted to become donors. If they decided to do so, their donor status would appear on their license and be maintained in a state registry.
If they were not ready to make a decision or were uncomfortable sharing it, they would need to designate someone to make the decision on their behalf at the appropriate time.
Those who did not want to be donors would check off a box acknowledging that.
The bill would provide $80,000 to the Motor Vehicle Commission to implement the program while incorporating organ-donation education into the high school curriculum beginning with the 2008-09 school year.
New Jersey colleges also would be required to provide information on organ donation through curriculum or student health services.
According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, New Jersey has 4,244 residents awaiting transplantation, with 2,470 New Jerseyans having died while waiting for a donation in the last 10 years.
Among the latter group was Joseph Bottino, who died at age 42 in February while waiting for a liver transplant after battling hepatitis C.
"I lost my husband, Joseph, because an organ was not available, and I don't want any family to have to go through that experience," said Diane Bottino of Haddonfield.
Kay Pittman Govito of Moorestown praised Codey's bill. Organs from her son helped save four people following his death in 2003, at age 31, after he was punched and hit his head on pavement.
"I know firsthand the difference that just one person alone can make by becoming an organ and tissue donor," said Pittman Govito.
Codey also is backing a bill that aims to clarify inconsistencies between state and federal laws that can complicate the recovery of organs and tissues and the speeding of them to recipients. Twenty states have adopted that bill.