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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Live organ donors protected under FMLA

Department of labor legal opinion a response to Herrera Beutler provision

By Katy Sword, Columbian politics reporter
Published: September 5, 2018, 6:00am

The U.S. Department of Labor released a legal opinion Aug. 28 confirming that live organ donation qualifies as a serious health condition and, therefore, is eligible for protection as outlined in the Family Medical Leave Act.

The opinion is in response to an appropriations funding bill provision authored by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, that amended the FMLA to include organ donation as a qualified condition for leave.

“On behalf of all kidney patients waiting on a life-saving transplant, we sincerely thank Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler for her unwavering commitment to helping remove barriers to living organ donation,” Kevin Longino, chief executive officer of the National Kidney Foundation, said in a press release. “She continues to be a steadfast champion for all those in need, and we are so grateful for her leadership in ensuring the job security of living donors who are eligible for FMLA.”

As some may recall, kidney donation is especially relevant to Herrera Beutler.

Her husband, Daniel Beutler, donated one of his kidneys in 2016 to their daughter Abigail Beutler — the first known survivor of Potter syndrome, a congenital disease that causes an absence of amniotic fluid in utero, stunting kidney and lung development. Thanks to specialized treatment, Abigail survived near certain death but was born without kidneys. When she was 2 1/2, she received her father’s kidney.

“I’m very pleased that, thanks to this announcement that I helped spur through my efforts in Congress, more individuals will make the life-saving decision to donate an organ,” Herrera Beutler said in a press release. “Organ donations save lives, save Medicare millions of dollars and cut costs across the health care system, which means it helps meet my goal of delivering better health care to Southwest Washington residents.”

Ronald Gill, former president of the American Society of Transplantation, said the opinion strengthens the organ transplant network and “our ability to make the gift of life a reality for the more than 100,000 patients currently awaiting a life-saving donor organ.”

A 2007 study from the American Journal of Transplantation found up to 11 percent of living organ donors struggle to secure or pay for insurance after donation. The possibility of increased insurance premiums also acted as a deterrent in some cases, preventing donors from following through with surgery, the study found.

“I’ll use this positive development to continue championing the Living Donor Protection Act that also protects organ donors’ access to insurance, removing yet another hurdle to this life-giving procedure,” Herrera Beutler said.

The Living Donor Protection Act, of which Herrera Beutler is a co-sponsor, also stipulates that insurance companies cannot deny coverage or charge higher premiums to those who choose to donate an organ. The act was introduced in 2017 but has not yet passed the House.

Columbian politics reporter