In an effort to increase organ donation in California, where only 28% of drivers choose to give up vital organs after death—compared with the national average of 40%—the state’s Department of Motor and Vehicles is taking a definitive stand. Starting this month, after years of being voluntary, answering that question on a California driver’s license application will become mandatory. Several donation advocacy groups support the move, which became law this year after State Senator Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara) pushed the bill through the legislature, unopposed. Still, some bio-ethicists are skeptical of the move; a similar change in Virginia law actually resulted in a decline in organ donors because being forced to answer the question drove more people to decline. Policy makers have proposed alternative plans—a default-to-donation policy that requires opponents opt-out; growing organs from stem cells; even paying for organs. All agree demand is greater than ever as Americans increasingly struggle with obesity-related illnesses and as deaths that leave organs in transplantable conditions, like car accidents, become more rare. Which method is most effective and why are donor rates so much lower in the golden state? Could it be that California’s transient population feels less connected to its neighbors or that cultural attitudes of the state’s diverse populations deter donors? Patt digs into some of the psychology behind the decision-making process. For example, why are people who register for a license online so much more likely to check the donor box than those who apply in-person at the DMV?
Jaime Garza, spokesperson with the Department of Motor Vehicles in California