Dear Mr. Premack: When I went to renew my driver’s license I noticed a brochure on becoming an organ donor. I did not pick it up, but have been thinking about it ever since. I remember that I have to say something in my Will in order to become a donor. Shouldn’t there be an easier way, or is my information outdated? – B.V.
Anatomical gifts allow you to donate useful organs or tissues upon your death. You can legally make the donation in any one of four ways:
1) Through your Last Will and Testament; 2) Through a written declaration of anatomical gift that is signed and has two witnesses; 3) Through a statement on your driver’s license (if it was declared before September 1, 1997 or after September 1, 2005); or 4) Through the online organ donor registry.
While all four of these methods are legal, the method you select must be sensitive to the speed requirements of donation. Any lengthy delay makes an organ or tissue donation less feasible. Hence, you should avoid using your Last Will and Testament because it could be days before anyone sees your statement. In the interest of speed, it is much better to carry a document on your person and to be pre-registered with the State as a donor.
State policy on using a driver’s license as a donor card has been inconsistent. Before September 1, 1997 the law allowed you to use your license to become a donor. Then the legislature decided the statement on the back of the Texas driver’s license was inadequate to authorize organ donation, so it was outlawed. The legislature changed its collective mind, and as of September 1, 2005 it again became legal to use the back of your driver’s license as an organ donor card. This is not the favored method, and the DPS encourages people to instead use the online registry – and DPS will give you a heart-shaped sticker for your driver’s license if you register.
The Texas online registry began a few years ago as the “Donor Education, Awareness and Registry” (DEAR) program. It has since been renamed as the “Glenda Dawson Donate Life – Texas Registry” (after a Texas legislator who received an organ transplant). You can read their materials and register by visiting http://www.donatelifetexas.org.
If you decide to register, you can fill out the registration form on your computer screen and can sign the form electronically (a legal method sometimes allowed to create a binding agreement without actually touching pen to paper). The registry then allows you to download a donor certificate which you can carry to identify yourself as a donor. Anyone of any age can register as a donor, but children under age 18 must have legal consent from a parent or guardian.
The state will request a $1 voluntary contribution to fund the program when you go to renew your driver’s license or your identification card, or when you register a vehicle. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, over 2.3 million Texans have registered as organ donors.
The law that authorizes the registry also says that if you change your mind about being a donor and want to have your name deleted from the statewide registry of organ, tissue, and eye donors, you must provide written notice directing that your name should be deleted from the registry. The website allows you to log in to an account set up just for you to make any changes that you desire.
Paul Premack is a Certified Elder Law Attorney practicing estate planning and probate law in San Antonio.
Original Publication: San Antonio Express News, March 12, 2012