A Meaningful Last Gift: The Anatomical Gift Act in Massachusetts

by Nikki Marie Oliveira

On February 22, 2012, Governor Deval Patrick signed the Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which will appear in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 113A.  This law allows a donor to leave his body or its parts for transplantation, therapy, research or education.  It was adopted with an aim to save lives in Massachusetts by improving the process of vital organ and tissue donations and reducing hindrances patients face in seeking organ donations.

Who can make the gift?  The decision can be made by the donor himself, the donor’s agent appointed in a health care proxy, a parent of a donor under age 18, or the donor’s guardian.

How can the gift be made?  The gift may be made in one of four ways, including: (1) by a statement or symbol authorized by the donor to be imprinted on his driver’s license or Mass ID; (2) by a will; (3) by any form of communication by a terminally ill donor to at least two persons over age 18, at least one of which is a disinterested witness (which excludes a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandchild, grandparent, or guardian); or (4) by a donor card or record signed by the donor or person authorized to make the gift, or by authorizing a statement or symbol indicating that the donor has made an anatomical gift to be included on a donor registry database.

Who can receive the gift?  The gift can be made to the following: (1) a hospital, accredited medical school (Harvard or UMass), dental school (Tufts), college or university, organ procurement organization; (2) a specific individual designated by the donor to receive an organ; or (3) an eye bank or tissue bank. 

This new law provides for two very important changes.  First, a “majority rule” prevents a single family member from vetoing the decision to make the gift.  Second, an appointed health care agent has the power to make a gift on your behalf, consistent with his role as your medical decision maker.  These two policies complement the Commonwealth’s effort to enhance the system for organ donations, by removing unnecessary barriers and allowing access and distribution of a decedent’s organs in a timely manner.

The law supports the Organ and Tissue Donor Registration Fund, which permits Massachusetts residents to register as organ donors at their local RMV or online.  The Department of Public Health’s Advisory Council on Organ and Tissue Transplants and Donations was also re-established in order to increase organ and tissue donation and transplant awareness.  The RMV is now required to provide a summary of the donor registry and anatomical gift act in every license and registration renewal.  The RMV is also required to develop a donor registry database, which will provide electronic access to relative information on licensed drivers and ID holders who are registered donors.

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