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Coroners concerned in Central Pa. over Organ Donation Bill

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A bill that would update Pennsylvania's Organ Donation laws, is causing concern among some Central Pennsylvania coroners.

The bill would increase public education on organ donations, such as in secondary schools, with the goal of having more people sign up to donate.

The Gift of Life, a non-profit organ donation program, is pushing for legislators to pass House Bill 30.

Albert Weibel, a Gift of Life volunteer, said, "Personally it gives us the opportunity to educate our youngsters - our soon-to-be-drivers."

Part of the bill said if minors want to be an organ donor, it will override the wishes of the family.

Cumberland County Coroner Charles Hall said, "When it comes time, if they were injured in an auto crash or something like that and they wanted to harvest the organs, the family would have no say about it. It's on their driver's license. They're taking the organs."

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Joseph Petrarca, said part of the reason he is pushing for this bill is because coroners have denied many organ transplants.

Petrarca said, "We have had more denials by coroners in Pennsylvania than half of the states in this country combined in the last few years."

But Hall said that is untrue.

"Gift of Life is No. 1 in Pennsylvania and nearly the world in organ procurement. So one has to ask the question if the coroners across the state are so stingy with allowing organ donation, then how did they get to be No. 1?" he asked.

Hall said the bill would take control out of the coroner's hands, especially in cases of criminal homicide, where the coroner would need the organs to help determine the cause of death.

"We need the body intact to be able to retrieve that evidence at the autopsy. And if we let them have the body first, that evidence is destroyed," he said.

But Petrarca said those claims are off base.

"The coroners have the final say as to whether or not an organ can be transplanted or not," Petrarca said.

Proponents of the bill said it's only going to help people waiting for an organ.

Weibel said, "You can't take this stuff with you. If you can save a life or lives, leave that stuff behind as an organ donor."

Representatives are discussing the bill and hope to vote on it Tuesday.