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The Presumed Consent Debate

"You never really know how long you have to wait."

John Mitchell knows a lot about waiting. He has been waiting for more than a year for a new heart. His only lifeline now is a 24-hour-a-day IV pack that keeps his ailing heart going, CBS News Correspondent Maureen Maher reports.

Mitchell is one of 72,000 Americans in dire need of an organ transplant.

"I know, being a person who is on the heart transplant waiting list, that you have a finite period of time," Mitchell said.

How great is the need for organs to harvest? According to Dr. Phil Berry, a liver transplant recipient himself, "6,000 people would say it's very great because they died last year on that list waiting for an organ that never came."

Dr. Berry says the organ donor shortage in this country can be considerably eased, if not solved, by adopting a new law called "presumed consent."

"Everyone is presumed to be a donor unless they opt out. We're asking those who don't want to be organ donors to do the act, to sign a statement that says they don't want to be organ donors," Dr. Berry said.

Organs are almost always donated by "informed consent," where a patient has signed a donor card or informed family they wish to be a donor if they die unexpectedly.

The Texas legislature is now considering changing state law to "presumed consent." Advocates argue European countries with the statute have dramatically increased the number of organ donations, but critics contend that Americans may not be ready for it.

"I'm not sure Texans, or Americans for that matter, are ready yet, culturally, to have somebody mandate that you have to give your organs if you're brain dead," said Maureen Sweeny of Baylor Medical Center.

Sweeny, of Baylor Medical Center's Division of Organ Transplants, supports the proposed law, but worries that freedom of choice could be the finer point.

"I think when you take away people's free will around something it has the potential to backfire," she said.

John Mitchell can't afford any more delays, so Dr. Berry continues his emotional crusade.

"I want people to understand that my story could be their story — they could be the next one on the transplant list," he said.

It's a list that increases by 10 percent every year, but could be significantly shorter if lawmakers decide that just by dying, a patient may have made their final decision on whether or not to donate.

CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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