State lawmakers respond to donor records problem - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

State lawmakers respond to donor records problem

William Thomas William Thomas
Sen. Vaneta Becker Sen. Vaneta Becker

Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates

Indianapolis - Last November, 13 Investigates showed you the secret workings of an illegal harvesting ring that has Indiana patients living in fear. (Read our original report.) This week, state lawmakers responded.

A proposed change in Indiana law could provide new penalties against people who alter donor records and violate patient trust.

Senate Bill 550 is Indiana's response to a gruesome crime that occurred thousands of miles away at a New York funeral home. That was where workers admitted raiding bodies to make millions from unscreened and potentially diseased bone and tissue.

William Thomas was a transplant recipient from Indiana who received an implant from the suspect tissue. Months after that surgery he was diagnosed with the liver disease Hepatitis C despite FDA warnings that the risk was low.

Now for the first time a bill sponsored by Senators Pat Miller and Vaneta Becker takes aim at anyone who falsifies donor records to illegally harvest organs and tissue for profit. William Thomas was implanted with the tissue at Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, the home district for Senator Becker.

"We wanted to make sure, and so we did put penalty in there that if they do provide false information in this procurement of organs that it is a crime in Indiana," said Sen. Becker (R-Evansville).

The measure won unanimous approval out of committee and with one of the state's largest procurement organizations.

"It is very important that the public have confidence in the safety of any organ or any tissue that is transplanted," said Sam Davis, Indiana Organ Procurement Organization. "Criminal intent was the motive and individual records were altered to make it appear that donation was something that they wanted to do when it may not have been."

It's a start for patients like William Thomas who want industry change and fast. "I may be in line for a liver transplant," Thomas said.

It's a frightening prospect for a man who received unscreened tissue that potentially led to his liver disease in the first place.

Senate Bill 550 would bring Indiana in line with federal standards adopted last year. It would require coroners across the state to cooperate with organ and tissue donations. While the criminal statute is the first step to helping the industry clean up its act, lawmakers say certification could be next. If approved on third reading the bill will head to the full Senate.

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