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Organ donation age lowered to 16 in New York, a laggard behind other states

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Credit: University of Kansas Hospital/KCTV Embargo: Kansas City, MO Bill Ullery isn't alone. There are 120,000 people waiting for a transplant across the United States. That's why his family decided to launch a website advocating for organ donation.

Teens in New York are now allowed to sign up to be organ donors. (University of Kansas Hospital/KCTV)

NEW YORK — The age of consent for organ donation was lowered to 16 in New York Thursday.

New York historically has fewer organ donors than almost any other state despite its need for organ donations — only 24 percent of New Yorkers ages 18 and up have enrolled in the NYS Donate Life Registry compared to the national average of 51 percent, according to the DMV. Part of this came from its older age of consent, 18 as opposed to 16 in many states.

“With thousands of New Yorkers still waiting for the gift of life, we continue to focus on making organ and tissue donations available to all those in need,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “By authorizing 16 and 17 year olds to make the selfless decision to become an organ donor, we take another significant step to grow the state’s Donate Life registry and create opportunities to save lives.”

More than 10,000 New Yorkers are current on the waiting list for organs, according to the Health Department. Parents and legal guardians of minors can still block a donation if the minor dies before age 18 under the new law.

“New York is in the midst of a public health crisis where the need for organs for transplant far exceeds the supply,” said bill sponsor Assembly Assistant Speaker Felix Ortiz. “The state can now reach out to more people and do a better job to promote organ donation.”

The state has a fund for organ donation promotion, the Life Pass It On Trust Fund, but it hasn’t been utilized since being founded in 2004, according to an Aug. 2 audit by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. More than $1 million has been donated to the fund, but, as of December 2015, the state Health Department hadn’t spent a single penny of the fund.

“New Yorkers who tried to help others did not expect their money to sit unused in a bank account,” DiNapoli said. “New York ranks among the lowest nationally in registering organ and tissue donors, yet we’re sitting on $1 million that could make a real difference in the lives of New Yorkers needing an organ transplant. Too many times we’ve found that the state has failed to spend the money New Yorkers have given for worthy or lifesaving causes.”