Padden bill banning organ-transplant discrimination signed into law

Today Sen. Mike Padden’s anti-discrimination legislation to protect people with developmental disabilities who are seeking organ transplants was signed into law.

Substitute Senate Bill 5405 cleared the Legislature on April 24 with unanimous support.

“I am pleased that Washington has spoken clearly, with one voice, that all lives have value,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “No transplant should be denied on the grounds of disability alone, and all those involved in making life-and-death decisions about eligibility should be clear about where the law stands on this important issue of justice and fairness.”

Under the new law mental or physical disability can no longer be used as the sole reason to deny transplant eligibility, surgery, medical care, or insurance coverage related to a transplant. Disability also cannot be used as the sole reason for moving a transplant candidate to a lower-priority position on a waiting list. Also, a person’s inability to comply with post-transplant medical requirements can’t be used as a reason for denial, if he or she has support from others who can provide assistance. Discrimination against those with disabilities is already prohibited under federal law.

Ashley Helsing of the National Down Syndrome Society applauded the signing of Padden’s legislation.

“Senator Padden was wonderful to work with on this bill; he was very passionate about this issue,” said Helsing, who was instrumental in the bill’s passage, testifying on its importance before a Senate committee hearing.

“I am happy that Washington will be the ninth state to put this law on the books, and we’ll be working to get it done in others as well.”

Eric Matthes with the ARC of King County also attended today’s bill signing.

“This bill is important because people who are on the list for the longest period of time, and then finally come up, could then hear from the doctor that they aren’t going to take you because you have a disability,” said Matthes, who himself has Down syndrome. “It could be me. It could be anyone with Down syndrome or a different kind of disability. This aspect of saving someone’s life is really important.”

Padden pointed out that his new legislation alone won’t solve the problem, and that education and enforcement will be key to ending discrimination practices. He cited a recent high-profile California case in which a disabled man was denied a kidney transplant because he has Down syndrome, despite California already being one of the states that have laws similar to Padden’s new legislation.

Helsing agreed, pointing to a Stanford study showing 85 percent of pediatric transplant centers consider intellectual or developmental disabilities when determining eligibility for transplants. Some 71 percent of heart programs also consider disabilities as a factor.

“We all have a responsibility to work towards a culture that has respect for all life, and views the value of all lives equally,” said Padden. “This new law is an important step in that march towards justice.” The law created by Padden’s bill will go into effect July 28.