January 2019 Question of the Month: 


My family has been discussing organ donation. Some of us signed the back of our drivers’ licenses. Others have signed a health care proxy which directs our health proxy to make organ donation. Which is the right way to make sure our wishes to donate organs and tissue will be honored?

Beth’s Answer: It is wonderful that your family has decided to donate organs and tissue for life saving measures. Having made that choice, New York has several options to make sure your wishes are honored. Here are the three simplest ways.

• The best way to make sure your choice is honored for tissue, organ and/or eyes is to complete a Life Organ and Tissue Donor Registration Enrollment Form with the Donate Life Registry: https://donatelife.ny.gov/. The registry notifies family members and loved ones that the patient is an organ/tissue donor but family permission is not required for the donation.

• You can sign the back of your driver’s license to making an anatomical gift (donation). Using this method to indicate you are a donor requires that the drivers’ license be produced either prior to death or at death.

• The New York health care proxy form has a section which allows you to select what organs or tissue you want donated or permits your health proxy to make that decision. An estate planning lawyer can prepare the form or it can downloaded from the NYS Department of Health website. The health care agent’s ethical obligation is to follow the family member’s wishes but there is little recourse for a hospital to compel the health proxy to make the donation. Similarly, a living will can be used to indicate the desire for organ donation but New York does not have a living will law which would allow a hospital to compel the family to make the donation.

Of course, if an individual is hospitalized and competent to make their own decisions, he or she can tell the hospital and physicians their instructions for organ donation.

It’s important to have a health care proxy for all medical decisions if you are incapacitated and not able to make medical choices, including end of life and organ/tissue donation. But to make sure that your wishes are honored for organ/tissue donation, take the time to complete the registry form online, then back that up with signing the back of your driver’s license.

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