By SOPHIA BRANDT
Capital News Service
LANSING – Michigan tax filers may soon be asked to check a box on whether they would like to donate their organs.
Legislation to make Michigan the first state to ask if you want to be an organ donor on state tax forms was recently heard by the Health Policy Committee in the Michigan House of Representatives.
If it passes, it would be a first for Michigan and a first for the U.S.
The need for organ donors is great.
“Currently, about 2,400 Michiganders are critically ill, waiting for a life-saving organ transplant,” said Patrick Wells-O’Brien, vice president of communications and external relations for Gift of Life Michigan.“Plus, there’s another 16,000 Michiganders who linger on dialysis, many of whom would benefit from a kidney transplant.”
Without a transplant, dialysis is necessary for survival for people who have end-stage kidney disease, meaning their kidneys do not function well enough to sustain life, said Joyce Williams, communications specialist for the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan.
“Kidney transplants give people more freedom and a better quality of life,” Williams said.
About 56% of Michigan adults are registered organ donors, Wells-O’Brien said.
Putting the question on state tax forms makes it so you are asked every year to donate, he said.
“We know if we can present the question more often to the public, every single time the question is presented, we get some people who will finally decide at that point, now is the time for me to say ‘yes’.. And for those who already are registered donors, hopefully it reminds them of that decision.” Wells-O’Brien said.
People can sign up now to be a donor when getting or renewing their driver’s license. The other option is to do it online on the online Michigan organ donor registry.
The question would be phrased as, “Would you like to add your name to the Michigan organ donor registry?” with a yes or no checkbox. Signing the tax form signifies the agreement.
Once you check yes, you stay on the registry. Although the question will still be on your tax forms each year, you will not be taken off. If you wish to be taken off, this can be done online or when renewing your license.
In addition, you will be sent a heart sticker for your driver’s license. While the heart on the license is an important indication, the registry is what is checked in the situation of potentially using someone’s organs, Wells-O’Brien told the committee.
How effective the measure can be is uncertain.
“We are the first state to add the question to the state tax forms, and we have no idea what the response will be,” Wells O-Brien said. “We do know that about 4.5 million income tax forms are filled out annually in Michigan. The registry question will be on the voluntary contributions form, and about 42,000 Michigan adults fill that form out.”
Although the impact is yet unclear, Gift of Life hopes that this legislation will increase the number of people registered. If it goes through by early summer, the question will be on next year’s forms.
Wells-O’Brien said there has been no opposition. The initiative is supported by many including, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Trinity Health Care Systems, Michigan Hospital Association, the Michigan Department of Treasury, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Eversight, an Ann Arbor based non-profit eye bank, working with Gift of Life for eye transplants.
“Any legislation that provides options for people to learn about organ donation and sign up for the state Organ Donor Registry has our full support,” said Linda Smith-Wheelock, president and CEO of the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan, based in Ann Arbor, “Any avenues that increase organ donations and provide awareness of these important gifts will help save lives.”
“The cost of this is exceptionally low, we’re already collecting the data, we already have the existing tax form. We are just adding it to the form, so we can do this at very minimal cost,” Jeff Guilfoyle, chief deputy treasurer for the Michigan Department of Treasury, told the committee.
The legislation is sponsored by Reps. Felicia Brabec, D-Pittsfield Township, Cynthia Neeley, D-Flint, and Natalie Price, D-Berkley.
“One organ donor can save up to eight lives,” said Wells-O’Brien, “That one registration can make a huge impact on so many.”