General Assembly passes Sen. Acosta and Rep. Giraldo’s legislation that bans discrimination against organ recipients based on disability


STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly tonight passed legislation sponsored by Sen. Jonathon Acosta and Rep. Joshua J. Giraldo that would prohibit discrimination against a potential organ transplant recipient based solely on a physical or mental disability.

“Individuals with disabilities have already gone through and overcome so much in their lives and for them to be denied a possibly life-saving organ transplant due to their disability is simply wrong and this practice must be rectified.  The stigma and prejudices experienced by people with disabilities is real and denying someone vital medical care because of these biases is perhaps this unfair treatment’s most repugnant form.  This bill will save lives and I thank my colleagues for their support,” said Senator Acosta (D-Dist. 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket).

“We must always remain vigilant in protecting those who are differently abled,” said Representative Giraldo (D-Dist. 56, Central Falls). “Unfortunately, organ transplants denials are based on disability rather than suitability. The discrimination faced by this community is still very real; and while the Americans with Disabilities Act affords many protections, some of that legislation is vague, leaving it up to us to further strengthen and define those protections in state law. This particular bill would provide a quick resolution process, which is imperative for those in need of a timely transplant.  With more than 100,000 people on organ waiting lists, doctors have to make difficult decisions about which patients are likely to benefit most.  But that decision should never be based on the myth that differently disabled people will not be able to comply with post-transplant requirements or won’t have an improved quality of life with a transplant.”

The bill is named “Isaac’s Law” after Senator Acosta’s cousin, a North Providence resident born with Down syndrome.  Isaac’s younger brother, Nicolas Upegui, brought the situation to Senator Acosta’s attention after noticing that Rhode Island lacked the legal protections needed by his dear brother and many others.

The legislation (2021-S 0246 / 2021-H 6079) states that an individual who is a candidate to receive an anatomical gift would not be deemed ineligible or denied insurance coverage solely based on the individual’s physical or mental disability, except to the extent that the physical or mental disability has been found by a physician or surgeon to be medically significant to the provision of the anatomical gift.

Because of a lack of federal enforcement, there is a demonstrated need for state action to ensure the rights of people with disabilities including Down syndrome. Denying organ transplants to people with intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities like Down syndrome or autism is common in the United States, even though it is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The legislation now heads to the governor’s desk for consideration.