Capitol fight over organ donation bill

A battle over bodies is about to hit the Capitol over bills that would update Pennsylvania's organ donation law.

Former Pennsylvania State Policeman Bruce Edwards is an aggressive advocate.

“I was basically legally blind in my right eye,” Edwards said about his vision prior to a 1988 corneal transplant.

He would like to see any law that facilitates the easier harvesting of organs and tissue. He joined a recent rally at the Capitol pushing for Senate Bill 850 and House Bill 30. The prime sponsor is Representative Bryan Cutler—(R) Lancaster County—whose prime motivation is the 8,400 Pennsylvanians awaiting organs.

“Young people an adults are waiting and dying while they wait,” Cutler said at the rally. On average, one person a day in Pennsylvania dies before an organ is secured.

But Edwards didn't just receive.

In 2008, 20 years after getting transplanted sight, he gave in a way no parent ever wants to.

His 17-year-old daughter Melissa was killed in a car accident. He allowed her tissues to be harvested. They helped six people.

He knows a parent's anguish and knows how tough it is to ask a grieving loved one to give up organs and tissues.

“Any extra pain that you experience that day, a thousand times over comes back in comfort over the years,” Edwards said while fighting back tears. “Knowing that something good and positive came out of something horrible.”

Pennsylvania's organ donation law dates to 1994, in the days following the highly publicized heart and liver double transplant of Governor Bob Casey. It was a national leader then but other states now do more to facilitate organ donation. Supporters call SB 850 and HB 30 a modernization of current law. Critics, like state coroners, some law enforcement and victim's advocates, call it a bad idea.

“Once you decide to give any part of your body, they can take everything,” said Susan Shanaman, a lobbyist who represents coroners in Pennsylvania.

Shanaman says the bills would let organ harvesters usurp a coroner's power and potentially interfere with crime scene evidence that could allow killers to go free.

“What happens to the evidence?” Shanaman asks. “They're not forensically trained and once that evidence is gone the evidence is gone.”

Dauphin County District Attorney agrees there are potential problems and says he's working with the bills sponsors to tighten up language.

But Edwards, a former State Police investigator, insists he would not support any legislation that would harm a crime scene, Besides, he says, 45 states have already passed laws similar to what he's pushing for Pennsylvania.

“So you're saying the other 45 state's that have done it already they made a mistake,” Edwards said. “But nothing bad's happening in those states.”

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