Maryland residents would have to opt out of the state's organ donation system under legislation before the General Assembly, angering religious groups that oppose it for ostensibly placing the state's law above God's.
The measure would require Marylanders to opt out of organ donation when they applied for a driver's license or state ID, as opposed to the current system, in which they can volunteer to opt in.
"The government does not have a lien on our bodies," said Catholic League President Bill Donohue. "The whole idea of opting out is offensive, because the predicate here is that the state has some claim on our organs."
The Catholic League joined Orthodox Jewish groups to defeat a similar New York bill in 2010.
"It cheapens the whole culture because the way we look at human life from conception to natural death becomes coarser and coarser," Donohue said. "The premise is that somehow the government owns your body unless you opt out ... if we accept that, what's next?"
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ron Young, D-Washington and Frederick counties, would require the Motor Vehicle Administration to notify people applying for or renewing driver's licenses or IDs that they will be an organ donor unless they expressly choose not to. It doesn't specify how the MVA must notify applicants. Donor organs and tissue can be used for transplants, therapy, or medical research and education.
A House version is being sponsored by Del. Galen Clagett, D-Frederick County. Neither Young nor Clagett returned calls.
Few religions expressly forbid organ donation. Jehova's Witnesses believe blood from one person's body should never enter another's, and the Japanese Shinto religion believes that dead bodies are impure and taking organs equates to defiling a corpse.
Some Orthodox Jewish interpretations also hold that organ donation defiles a corpse.
About half of Maryland adults are registered organ donors, ranking it 27th among states, according to a 2012 report by organ donation group Donate Life.
Libby Wolfe, executive director of Donate Life Maryland, said 2,300 people in Maryland are awaiting a donation, with 116,000 waiting nationwide. Donate Life Maryland opposes the "presumed consent" bill because countries with opt-out systems have seen a decrease in donors.
If Maryland passes the bill, it would be the first state to have such a law. The legislatures in Virginia and New Jersey are also considering bills to create presumed-consent organ donation systems, according to the University of North Carolina Kidney Center, which tracks transplant-related bills.