Did you know that people with Down syndrome face significant barriers to life-saving organ transplants? I was shocked when I first heard that this was a “thing.” How could anyone decide one life is less worthy than another solely based on their disability?
That’s why six months ago I called my state representative, Niraj Antani, and asked him to draft a bill giving greater legal protections for life-saving organ transplants to people with disabilities. Ohio House Bill 332 was born, and recently went to the Ohio House Health Committee. You can read the bill here.
As the bill was being drafted I learned about a story of organ transplantation discrimination just north of where I live in Sidney, Ohio. Little Ellie’s mom was told shortly after she was born that Ellie couldn’t receive the heart transplant she desperately needed to stay alive because she has Down syndrome. Read her story below.
Read Related Post Here: Little Ellie is Denied the Heart She Needs
As soon as I connected with Ellie’s mom Jackie Ward, I knew she had to share Ellie’s story with Ohio legislators and the world. Ellie would be the change-maker! Jackie was hesitant to share at first, but over time she realized the impact Ellie’s story could have on the passage of H.B. 332. Yesterday, I was thrilled to walk the halls of the Ohio State House with Ellie and her family.
We testified in support of House Bill 332, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the committee room. I felt so privileged to give testimony in favor of Ellie and thousands of other people with disabilities that face barriers to life-saving health care. My speech gave details that included the six other states that have passed similar legislation (Oregon, Pennsylvania, Maryland, California, New Jersey and Massachusetts). Two other states (Kansas and Delaware) are currently working on a bill in their state legislatures.
We also had a fellow advocate and Autism super-mom, Jennifer Power Alge, provide the perspective of families with loved ones with Autism. Down Syndrome Association of Central Ohio Executive Director, Kari Jones, gave insight into the amazing achievements of people with disabilities, and how all life is inherently worthy of life-saving health care. But by far, the star of the show was Ellie and her mom who told her story.
Read Related Post Here: Ending Organ Transplantation Discrimination
The Americans with Disabilities Act actually provides broad protections for individuals with disabilities, but there’s no specific protection for access to organ transplantation. In fact, a group of 30 Republican and Democratic U.S. Representatives signed a letter just last year to the Department of Health and Human Services asking them to issue federal guidance to protect individuals with disabilities against organ transplantation discrimination. Unfortunately, nothing came of that letter. That’s why states need to act.
If you’re interested in advocating for a similar bill in your state I would start with the related posts above, as well as the following toolkits: ASAN Organ Transplantation Toolkit and NDSS Organ Transplantation Toolkit
I would also encourage you to watch testimony from Ellie’s mom below, as well as an Oregon mom who’s non-verbal Autistic son was refused a heart transplant in Oregon and ended up leaving the state and getting the transplant done in California. Both are extremely moving and puts a human face on an otherwise dry bill. Watch the Oregon mom starting at 38 minutes and 51 seconds here.
Our bill received a warm reception from Ohio House Health Committee members, who were also shocked that this was a real “thing.” The committee moved to the next step in the process, an opponent hearing and then a vote. So far, there as been no public opposition from transplant centers or doctors. Really the bill is not an attack on either of these institutions. There’s no penalty clause in the bill, but it does allow families to seek legal recourse to secure an organ transplant if they feel their loved one has been discriminated against. It’s more about ensuring families know they have greater legal protection to help advocate for their loved one when they need it most.
I will keep you posted on our bill as it moves forward. What are your thoughts on this issue? I love to hear from my readers, so leave a comment below or send me a private email.