Coroners in Colorado and Wyoming Allowed More Eye Donations in 2011
Eye donations that were not allowed to take place by a coroner in 2011 dropped by a third in Colorado and Wyoming in 2011. In Wyoming, denials dropped by a whopping 81 percent from 2010. Colorado had a more modest drop of 10 percent from 2010 but two counties had dramatic increases in denials. Adams County had a 600 percent increase in eye donation denials and Boulder County had a 500 percent increase that offset reductions in other counties. Between the two states, eye donations were denied 44 times compared with 62 times in 2010.
Laws in both states mandate that coroners work to maximize the number of eye, organ and tissue donations by working cooperatively with recovery agencies like the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank, which provided the data. If the coroner feels that recovery of a particular donated tissue will interfere with his or her ability to determine the cause or manner of death, the coroner may disallow the donation. The statute requires the eye bank and coroners to have a written agreement on how cases under the coroner's jurisdiction will be handled in order maximize donations.
Robert Austin, the eye bank's manager of public and professional relations, noted that it was work done on protocols in Wyoming that had the biggest impact in that state. "Part of the negotiation process results in both parties gaining a mutual understanding of each other and the challenges each faces," Austin said. The result is that coroners find ways to get their investigations complete while preserving the wishes of the decedent to help another through eye, organ and tissue donation. In turn, the eye bank can help coroners by collecting vitreous fluid — the fluid that fills the eye — and to seal it as evidence. The vitreous fluid can be used to help determine time of death and for drug and alcohol testing.
The big increases in denied eye donations in Adams County and Boulder County stand out in the statistics. Both counties have newly elected coroners.
"We are very concerned," Austin said about the two counties, "but we're working with these coroners and the district attorneys to find out what has changed and how we can work together to minimize the loss of donations." The eye bank has been working for several months to get written agreements in place in the two counties.
While the National Association of Medical Examiners has an official position that virtually no cornea donation need be denied as part of a death investigation (suspected shaken baby syndrome is one exception). The primary reason is that corneas are thin sections of tissue about the size of a thumbnail and do not have a direct blood supply. The eye bank, however, recognizes there are circumstances where a recovery of donated eye tissues may not be possible because of the requirements of the coroner but it's trying to work with coroners to find ways to meet both the needs of the coroner and the eye bank. "Overall, we've found coroners in our service area to be responsive to people's desires to help another overcome blindness through eye donation," Austin said. "Colorado has the highest donation rate in the country and Wyoming ranks at number three. As more people become willing to donate, coroners are, in large part, stepping up and helping to fulfill that wish."
Total Ruled Out
Total Ruled Out
|El Paso County||10|
|La Plata County||1|