By Jake Stern

The health insurance company Excellus BlueCross BlueShield issued a report this week that shows New Yorkers register themselves as organ donors at less than half the rate of other Americans (22% statewide vs 48% nationwide). This is despite the fact that demand for organs in New York is one of the highest in the country, with over 11,000 residents on the waiting list.

Barb Petersen, a nurse at Bassett Healthcare Center and a liaison with the Center for Donation and Transplants, notes many reasons for why New York is lacking in registered donors. One reason, she claims, is lack of education. Ro Avila, a kidney donor recipient from Delhi, agreed. “I think sometimes families of deceased donors think they won’t get the donor’s body back if his or her organs or used, and that’s not true,” she said.

Another reason, Petersen asserts, is the process people go through to donate, which skews state percentage numbers. New York residents can become organ donors when registering to vote, receiving a driver’s license, or volunteering online at the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles website or on “There’s an awful lot of people there who don’t have cars or licenses,” Petersen said. “But that process is how many people initially hear about organ donation and have a chance to sign up.” Petersen also points to how people get uncomfortable thinking about death, which is why hospital’s do not promote or even suggest organ donation by a deceased loved one. “It’s hard,” Petersen said. “We’re a hospital and we’re here to save lives, so we have to be sensitive about it.”

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