SALT LAKE CITY — A bill requiring state prisons to offer inmates the opportunity to sign up as organ donors was unanimously backed Wednesday by lawmakers.

“I don’t think anybody can really argue against the merits of organ donations,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, told members of the Legislature’s Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee.

Eliason sponsored a similar bill during the 2012 Legislature that was passed by the House but didn’t make it to a final vote in the Senate before the session ended.

The Department of Corrections has since started asking inmates if they want to be organ donors if they die in prison, both when they are initially processed and during medical procedures. But Eliason said without the law, future prison administrations might not continue the program.

“This puts very clearly in statute that this is allowed,” he said, noting there had been questions raised in the past about whether a death row inmate could agree to donate his organs.

Minority Whip Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake, asked whether there were protections in place against inmates being coerced to sign up as donors.

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“It’s simply a medical form,” said Mike Haddon, deputy director of corrections. But he said the form would be reviewed to ensure it makes it clear to inmates there are no penalties for not participating — or any incentives for signing up.

Haddon told the committee members that while it is not a “common occurrence” for inmates to die in prison, it happens, particularly among older inmates and those suffering from various ailments.

Eliason said there is no cost to the state for the program. The bill, recommended for passage by the interim committee, will be considered by the 2013 Legislature.


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