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Organ-Donation Education Fails to Spur More Donors, Study Finds

Statewide efforts over the past two decades to educate students on organ donation, whether through school or driver preparation courses, have had little to no effect on donation and transplantation rates, according to a study published earlier this month in JAMA Internal Medicine, a peer-reviewed journal run by the American Medical Association.

The study, which used data from the United Network for Organ Sharing and the Organ and Transplantation Network, analyzed six types of organ donation policies instituted in more than 40 states between 1988 and 2010.

The results showed that the majority of those state initiatives, including public school programs, donor registries, and paid leave and tax incentives for donors, "had no robust, significant association with either donation rates or number of transplants, even after allowing for prolonged delays for policies to take effect," according to the study.

The only policies that had a positive association with donation rates and transplantations were revenue legislation, in which individuals contributed money to state-funded promotional activities, such as community outreach or worksite campaigns. Those policies correlated with a national increase in organ transplantations of 5.3 percent, equal to 15 additional transplants per state, per year.

The gap between the number of people in need of organs and the number of organs available via donation has continued to widen since 1991, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. While 79 people receive organ donations each day, another 21 die waiting for transplants. Overall, nearly 80,000 people in the United States are on organ waiting lists and nearly 124,000 are in need of an organ, according to the study.

As of 2010, more than 50 percent of states have some form of public education programs on organ donation. Despite the study's results, other research projects have found positive correlations between education and the organ-donating process, and have helped fuel some policymakers' and experts' push towards more formal instruction.

Cheryl L. Grossman, a representative of District 23 in the Ohio House, is one such proponent. She is the primary sponsor of House Bill 137, legislation that would require each school within her state to incorporate the positive outcomes of organ and tissue donation into health class lesson plans. The bill was introduced to the Ohio House in April and referred to the state's education committee later that month.

"We have the best opportunity to educate people about what the donation decision means and the importance of making that decision in the school, within the health curriculum," said Marilyn Pongonis, the director of communications for Lifeline of Ohio, an organ-donation advocacy association in the state.

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Last month, Lifeline released information on Ohio drivers who signed up as organ donors when getting their license, permits or state IDs. The information showed that while some counties had sign-up rates as high as 71 percent, the majority of the state's southern and eastern counties had rates around or below 50 percent.

"Donation and transplantation are simply about people helping people," Pongonis added. "The need for education is so important because people don't register to be donors because they perhaps have some misconceptions or ... they just don't understand."

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