‘Charlie’s Law’ will offer the option of joining the National Marrow Donor Program when Californians apply for driver’s licenses and ID cards
PUBLISHED: October 3, 2022 at 12:46 p.m. | UPDATED: October 4, 2022 at 10:26 a.m.
A new law inspired by a South Bay prosecutor’s experiences with leukemia — and his struggle to get a bone-marrow transplant — aims to make it easier to join a national marrow registry, which advocates hope will increase donor diversity and the availability of life-saving treatments.
‘Charlie’s Law,’ named for Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Charles Huang, will let California residents register for the National Marrow Donor Program when they apply for or renew their state-issued driver’s licenses and ID cards.
The law, authored by state Assemblymember Evan Low, D-Campbell, and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last week, will go into effect in 2027. It adds language similar to sections on existing license and ID forms that give applicants the option to register as an organ donor and to register to vote.
“Given the genetic diversity of California and having this on our DMV renewal and ID card registration, this is going to save lives of people around the world, given our population,” Huang said in an interview.
Huang was the subject of a Mercury News article in May 2021 after staff in the district attorney’s office helped launch a local bone-marrow donor drive for him as he endured a recurrence of myeloid leukemia, which had gone into remission a year earlier; he was first diagnosed in 2019.
One of the issues that drive called attention to was a relative dearth of Asian donors in the national marrow registry, which meant Asian patients suffering from blood cancers had a 41% chance of finding an adult match while white patients’ match rate was 77%.
Huang did end up finding a life-saving marrow match, fatefully from his own brother, who had initially been ruled out as a donor because he had also suffered cancer, but was later allowed to donate his marrow. But the experience of trying to find a donor prior to that bout of family luck convinced him that more types of people had to join the registry to give others a better chance at survival.
Low said the news story about Huang inspired their later partnership that led to the drafting of what would become Charlie’s Law. The initial bill, introduced last year, never made it out of the state Assembly. But they introduced it again this year as Assembly Bill 1800, and it was signed into law Friday.
“Instead of allowing his own personal adversity to hamper his spirits, Charlie has used this moment to transform and save the lives of countless others,” Low said. “In passing Charlie’s Law, the state is able to assist in amplifying the reach in connecting those in need. I am grateful for Charlie’s selflessness.”
When the original bill was introduced, medical experts echoed Huang’s stance that standardizing people’s introduction to the National Marrow Donor Program could be instrumental in shrinking the striking racial disparities in the country’s existing database, which has left hundreds of thousands of Americans afflicted with blood cancers and other diseases with limited avenues for relief.
“It costs the state virtually nothing to save countless numbers of lives,” Huang said. “It’s the first step of many great things to come in terms of helping folks.”
People between the ages of 18 and 40 are eligible to join the registry, and opting in connects them to the National Marrow Donor Program — known as bethematch.com online — which will send a self-collection kit for a cheek swab. Huang stressed that’s all that prospective donors need to do, and that the medical decision about donating can be made later if they match with someone.
Huang said he hopes that other states will follow suit once they see how simple the California law will be to implement, thereby making huge strides in helping all kinds of people find marrow donors.
But he said that the magnitude of the bill’s passage hasn’t phased him; he’s entirely focused on the extra time he’s gotten with his wife and three daughters.
“I am so grateful to have each and every single day.”