Oklahoma Lawmaker to Organ Harvesters: Cut It Out

By Francis-Smith, Janice | THE JOURNAL RECORD, April 23, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Oklahoma Lawmaker to Organ Harvesters: Cut It Out


Francis-Smith, Janice, THE JOURNAL RECORD


Lucky Lamons' father had been dead less than 10 minutes before someone from the hospital came asking to collect the bones, eyes and skin from the body, said Lamons. His mother agreed to donate her husband's skin and bones, but not his eyes.

"She just remembered looking into his eyes for a long time, and didn't want anybody else to have them," said state Rep. Lamons, D- Tulsa.

Senate Bill 1708, by Senate Co-President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, would have simply updated some of the language in the Oklahoma Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, said state Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove. But when the measure was considered by the full House of Representatives, state Rep. Lucky Lamons, D-Tulsa, submitted an amendment to address a personal concern.

Lamons said he is an organ donor, and he realizes the important work organ and tissue sharing organizations do to save lives in Oklahoma.

But once he learned that some employees of the state Medical Examiner's Office also work part-time for LifeShare Transplant Donor Services of Oklahoma - the only organ and tissue procurement organization in the state - Lamons said the relationship seemed improper to him.

Lamon's amendment states that "No employee of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of this state shall receive compensation of any kind from any organ-sharing or organ-procuring network or organization."

A pending attorney general opinion could clear up the issue of whether it is proper for employees of the state Medical Examiner's Office to do work for a private organ and tissue procurement company.

"They are a private business," Lamons said of LifeShare. "They can hire and train their own people to do what the Medical Examiner's Office is doing for them. They just use them, I would assume, because they have the knowledge and know-how and it's probably cheaper. I want to make sure when anybody from the Medical Examiner's Office is talking to a family that their sole purpose is to assist that family, and not try to make a profit."

LifeShare is a private, not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization that has worked to recover organs for transplantation throughout Oklahoma since its inception in 1986. LifeShare is one of 57 organizations certified and designated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the purpose. In 2002, when the American Red Cross stopped handling tissue donation and procurement, LifeShare stepped in to take over those duties as well, said Phil Van Stavern, director of communications for LifeShare.

Organs are harvested at the hospital; tissue is harvested at one of LifeShare's facilities after the Medical Examiner's Office has collected all the information it needs and has released the body to LifeShare.

LifeShare employs three team leaders and a tissue recovery manager, but contracts with five private individuals who also work for the state medical examiner to harvest tissue from the bodies of donors who have died.

Few people in Oklahoma other than the medical examiner's staff possess the necessary skills to successfully harvest and prepare tissue in a manner that would allow the tissue to be used by a transplant recipient, said Van Stavern. The process of training someone with the basic skills to do the job can take anywhere from six months to a year, he said.

Van Stavern said Lamons' concern is unfounded. If the same people had authority over the entire process, there could be a possibility to abuse the system for monetary benefit, but that is simply not the case, he said.

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Oklahoma Lawmaker to Organ Harvesters: Cut It Out
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