Gov. Chris Christie visited the hospital where he was born to sign legislation promoting organ donation and also fielded questions regarding complaints that State Police officers last month escorted a high-speed caravan of luxury automobiles in what one witness described as “Death Race 2012.”
Christie met with transplant patients and physicians Monday at Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, a leading center for organ and tissue transplantation and home of the nation’s third largest heart transplant program.
“As an organ donor you can have a major impact on multiple lives across this country. We hear startling statistics that demonstrate the importance of increasing organ donation,” said Christie, who is registered as a donor himself. “We know that’s needed.”
The legislation Christie signed today designates April “Donate Life Month” in New Jersey and authorizes the state Department of the Treasury to disseminate information about organ donation among state employees and contractors who do business with New Jersey.
In attendance at today’s signing was Raymond Martinez, head of the state Motor Vehicle Commission, who has been visiting MVC facilities urging employees to remind those signing up for license renewals and vehicle registrations to register as organ donors as well. Motorists can also register via the MVC Web site .
New Jersey is a laggard nationally in number of registered organ donors. The state is ranked 42nd in registrations, with just 31 percent of those over 18 signed up, according to the NJ Sharing Network.
There are multiple reasons for New Jersey’s relatively poor ranking, said Joseph Roth, CEO of the Sharing Network. Many adult residents do not drive, prospective donors often assume they don’t need to do anything to be donors, and reaching every community in such an ethnically diverse state can be a challenge, Roth said.
“States with more homogeneous populations, like Utah, have higher rates,” Roth said.
Roth, while encouraging people to register with the MVC when they get a driver’s license or a state ID card -- an identification option popular with those who do not drive -- also said merely informing one’s family members of their desire to be a donor can be sufficient. Next of kin can give permission to donate organs and tissues if that was the deceased's wish, Roth said.
Donation can have a wide-ranging impact, Roth and other speakers today also noted. A single donor can save up to eight lives by providing vital organs like a heart or lungs, while up to 50 people can benefit from donations like corneas and skin. Of the approximately 5,000 people in New Jersey waiting for donations, nearly 4,000 are in need of kidneys, according to the Sharing Network. All major religions support organ and tissue donation.
“Life is a gift from God for each and every one of us,” Christie said. “If we have the opportunity through a selfless act to extend the length of that gift for another human being, then that’s something we should all be doing, in my opinion.”
Following the ceremony Christie responded to questions from the press regarding a bizarre incident last month in which State Troopers escorted a fleet of vehicles that included Porsches, Lamborghinis and Ferraris down the Garden State Parkway at speeds of more than 100 mph.
Christie, who expressed relief that no one was hurt, addressed the matter with his trademark bluntness.
“I just shook my head” when I heard the news, he said. “What are you going to do? It is a completely ridiculous story. It shouldn’t have happened, it was a dumb thing to do but let me assure you it’s not the last dumb thing we’ll see happen...People make mistakes.”
Christie also said he trusted state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa and Col. Rick Fuentes, the commander of the State Police, to address the matter swiftly and appropriately. While he said he would make inquiries privately if he had concerns about the investigation now underway into the March 30 incident, Christie also said he was content to leave the matter to Fuentes and Chiesa and would not publicly involve himself.
“Law enforcement is not my job anymore,” said Christie, who served as US Attorney for New Jersey under former President Bush.
“I hated it when politicians behind podiums would lecture me, that I should have done this or that, so far be it from me to be a hypocrite on this one."
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