Clear Eye on the Transplant Tie

Wisconsin sees a way to give living organ donors a break

When Wisconsin Representative Steve Wieckert set out to write a bill to encourage organ donation, he kept running up against the same problem: a belief that helping a living donor is tantamount to supporting the sale and trade of organs. Because of that, Wieckert says, "people think that you can't help donors with anything."

The bill Wieckert introduced provides a legal form of assistance. It allows living organ donors to deduct costs incurred in organ donation from their state income taxes. Those expenses are limited to $10,000 in travel, lodging and lost wages.

The bill passed the Assembly 95-1, the Senate 30-2 and was signed into law by Governor Jim Doyle in January. State number crunchers estimate that the new law will cost Wisconsin about $115,000 next year.

According to Wieckert, there was "not a dry eye in the place" after two dozen organ recipients testified before the legislature. Speakers included Actor Larry Hagman, who received a liver transplant, and Miss Wisconsin Tina Sauerhammer, who at age 22 became the youngest doctor in the state's history. Sauerhammer's father died in 2002 while awaiting a kidney transplant.

Within weeks, similar bills were introduced in Indiana, Minnesota and New York, and other states are considering legislation. "It's outrageous how fast this has spread," says Wieckert. When Wisconsin's fiscal situation improves, he hopes to change the bill to allow for tax credits, instead of deductions. "Our long term goal is to have no one die for need of an organ," he says.