May 23, 2007
Law Professor Kurtz Drafts New Anatomical Gift Law
A new law written by a University of Iowa law professor will make it easier for people to donate their organs after they've died.
Sheldon Kurtz, Percy Bordwell Professor of Law in the University of Iowa College of Law, was a member of the committee that helped to write the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which will be considered by legislatures in all 50 states over the next two years. As the committee's reporter, Kurtz was primarily responsible for writing the act, taking into account the input of a drafting committee of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
The anatomical gift law governs organ donations for the purpose of transplantation. It also governs the making of anatomical gifts of cadavers to be dissected in the study of medicine. The law prescribes the forms by which such gifts can be made and also states who can donate organs if an individual failed to sign an organ donation card.
First written in 1967, the law had been updated only once, in 1987. Kurtz said the commissioners decided in 2004 that the law should be revised again to reflect changes in health care and technology in the past 40 years and a three-year process of re-writing was begun.
So far, the model act has become law in 12 states and is in the legislative process in 15 others. The Iowa legislature passed the bill during its recently completed session and it was signed into law in April by Gov. Chet Culver.
Kurtz said the updated law differs from its predecessor in some important respects. For instance, the previous law made no distinction between donating an organ for transplant or for research, so that if a person donated an organ, it could be used for either purpose. Kurtz said the new law puts a priority on the use of an organ for transplantation or therapy and allows its use for research or education only if permitted by the donor or the donor's family when not otherwise suitable for transplantation.
The revised law also makes it impossible for a donor's family to prevent the donor's organs from being used for transplant if the donor had made an anatomical gift during his or her lifetime. Under the old law, a family member could stop the donation process.
"My bias in drafting this law was to make it as easy as possible for people to donate their organs and tissue after they've died," said Kurtz. "It's too important for the 95,000 people who are on the waiting lists and we wanted a law to streamline the process."
Kurtz, one of the leading experts in anatomical gift law in the United States, said his interest in the field began when he taught a class in 1992 that wrote a model organ donation law as an exercise.
"I knew only a little about anatomical gift laws at the time but the experience in the class made me interested intellectually in the topic," he said. Later, he worked with the Iowa Donor Network on a statewide survey that polled Iowans about their understanding and concerns about organ donations.
His work in drafting the uniform act came after he was appointed one of Iowa's representatives to the Commission on Uniform State laws in 1999. The commissioners on Uniform State Laws draft model laws on a number of topics that are intended to harmonize state law across the country and forwards those models to state legislatures for consideration. Kurtz was appointed to the 10-member committee to draft the commission's model uniform anatomical gift act.
"It made sense for me to work on the act because of all my research and past work in the area," said Kurtz.
He said most legislatures modify the commissioner's model to suit local concerns, but the bulk of it has or will pass intact in every state. Kurtz helped in getting the act adopted in Iowa and makes himself available to advise its supporters in other states as they push for its passage. For his work, Kurtz received the Volunteer of the Year Award from the Iowa Donor Network in April.
University of Iowa law students also had input into the act, as eight of Kurtz's research assistants helped him during the drafting process.
"This gave them an opportunity to work on something that will have national impact and real world implications," Kurtz said. "Students don't often have that opportunity while in law school."
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.
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