TRENTON - New Jerseyans getting driver's licenses will have to decide whether they will be organ donors.
Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey signed a bill into law yesterday that requires those applying for and renewing licenses and identification cards to indicate whether they want to be organ donors.
The state has five years to get the program running.
Also, high schools must teach about organ donation starting in the 2009-10 academic year.
New Jersey is among states that ask license applicants 18 and older if they want to be organ donors, but they haven't been required to answer.
Howard M. Nathan, president and CEO of the Gift of Life Donor Program, has said New Jersey will be the first state to impose such requirements.
"We want to move this important conversation out of the emergency room, where illness and injury already create a profound burden, and into the living room, where a thoughtful and deliberate decision can be reached without the pain of loss looming on the horizon," Codey said.
Codey, the Democratic state Senate president filling in for Democratic Gov. Corzine, who is in Israel, sponsored the bill.
Under New Jersey's law, a person's wish to donate an organ will appear on his or her license and will be maintained in a state registry. Alternately, the license-holder may designate someone to make the decision on his or her behalf.
Those who decide not to donate must acknowledge reviewing information about it.
People who currently have licenses won't have to make their decision until they apply for a renewal.
"We're raising the dialogue about organ donation and ensuring that New Jerseyans talk to their loved ones about the possibility of becoming a donor," said Sen. Joseph F. Vitale (D., Middlesex), another sponsor and the Senate health committee chairman.
Cathleen Lewis, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, said about 1.75 million New Jerseyans have checked the organ-donation box when applying for a license or identification card. That's a quarter of the state's licenses and identification cards.
About 99,000 people, including 3,050 in New Jersey, await organ donations in the United States, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
Since 1995, more than 85,000 Americans have died while waiting, including nearly 1,900 New Jerseyans, according to the network.