Motorcyclists killed in crashes while riding without a helmet would be presumed to be organ donors under a bill proposed by Senate President Martin Looney, who said Thursday the legislation was intended to make a statement rather than change the law.
The bill, referred last month to the legislature’s Public Health Committee, would create a rebuttable presumption that anyone who died without a helmet in a motorcycle crash must have wished to donate their organs.
Looney, a New Haven Democrat who has broad discretion over what legislation is raised for a vote in the state Senate, said he did not intend to pass his own bill.
“It’s a statement to highlight both the need for motorcycle safety and the need for more people to choose the option to have their organs available to transplant at the time of their death,” he said in an interview. “There are so many healthy organs that are buried with people that could otherwise have transformed other lives.”
Few people know the impact of a donated organ as well as Looney. The veteran legislator’s kidney functions were failing near the end of 2016. He was weeks from requiring dialysis when a donor stepped forward.
“I was losing energy and struggling. It was a difficult time,” Looney said. “Fortunately a dear friend of mine, Superior Court Judge Brian Fischer, turned out to be a good match. I received a kidney on Dec. 20 of 2016 and immediately my vitality was restored and my health has been much more robust since then.”
On Tuesday, the bill caught the attention of the American Motorcyclist Association, which issued a press release calling organ donation a “noble cause” but Looney’s bill a callous insult to the motorcycle-riding public.
“Not only is this bill insulting to motorcyclists, but it also violates the religious liberty of those whose faith prohibits posthumous organ donation, and is clearly an unconstitutional violation of bodily autonomy for any American,” AMA Government Relations Director Mike Sayre said in the statement.
The association urged motorcyclists both in and outside of Connecticut to contact Looney’s office and demand that he withdraw the bill and make amends with motorcyclists.
Although he does not intend to pass the organ donation bill, Looney said he was hoping to pass legislation this year requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets in Connecticut.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 18 states as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico have laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets. Currently, Connecticut only requires anyone under the age of 18 to wear a helmet while on a motorcycle.
Changing that policy is among a set of recommendations proposed this legislative session by the state Vision Zero Council, an interagency panel charged with reducing traffic-related deaths and injuries.
When the group met in December, State Police Sgt. Mark DiCocco said that between 36 and 41 unhelmeted motorcycle operators and passengers die each year in the state.
“Over the past five years, unfortunately, Connecticut has seen roughly 190 fatalities which can be directly correlated to not wearing a helmet,” DiCocco said.
On Thursday, Looney called the law inadequate and said he hoped to see it changed.
“We have so many horrendous accidents and motorcyclists almost always get the worst of it when they’re in a collision with a motor vehicle. There are often very gruesome head injuries that result from that and severe brain trauma,” he said.