Rethinking Healthcare

Facebook lets you share your organ donor status; spike in registries to follow

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As of yesterday, you can officially add your organ donor status to your Facebook profile. It may help to spur others. Within a day, several states reported huge jumps in donor designations.

As of yesterday, you can officially add your organ donor status to your Facebook profile. And since this new feature's announcement, the number of online donor designations have spiked.

The company’s motivation is this: more than 114,000 people in the US, and millions more around the globe, are waiting for the heart, kidney, or liver transplant that will save their lives.

Nearly 7,000 people in the US die a year waiting – that’s an average of 18 people a day. And the company hopes to lower that number with its 161 million members here by nudging people to add their names to the registry. Fewer than half of adult Americans have signed up to be an organ donor.

“Medical experts believe that broader awareness about organ donation could go a long way toward solving this crisis,” Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg write in a news release. “And we believe that by simply telling people that you're an organ donor, the power of sharing and connection can play an important role.”

It’s a rare foray by Facebook into social engineering from social networking, the New York Times reports: If you see all your friends do it, or have the illusion all your friends are doing it, it sets up an expectation of sorts and it may become a social norm.

According to experts in the field of organ donation, the feature could have a potentially profound effect:

People declaring on Facebook that they are organ donors could spur others to sign up at motor vehicle departments or online registries. But these experts say Facebook could create an informal alternative to such registries that could, even though it carries less legal weight, lead to more organ donations.

And while this could help substantially, the website shouldn’t become a de facto registry. Although, if a deceased isn’t in a registry, their status might simplify and hasten the decision for families to approve a donation. (Though, the legal defensibility is unknown right now.)

You can add that you’re an organ donor to your timeline and share the story about your decision. There’s also a link to add yourself to the donor registry list. (It’s all under ‘life event’ in the timeline status.)

Some users argue this is a deeply private decision that's fine to indicate with a red dot on a driver's license but might not be something they'd put on display in Facebook, Los Angeles Time reports.

Nonetheless, organ donation registries in 10 states reported as many new volunteer donors on Tuesday as they typically see in one month, according to ABC.

On Tuesday, in California alone, the number of online designations jumped to 550 from the usual 70 per day. The biggest online donor spike the state has ever seen came when Oprah did a segment a couple of years ago, Forbes reports. This one looks like it’s going to blow past Oprah.

By Tuesday evening, 100,000 people had declared themselves organ donors on their profiles. The company plans to add it in several other countries in coming months. Globally, Facebook has about 900 million members.

[Via New York Times]

Images from Facebook

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure