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For organ donation, Facebook beats the DMV, bioethicist says

Right now, nearly 114,000 people in the United States are waiting for organ transplants to save their lives. Tens of thousands more are in need of tissue, bone and cornea transplants to restore their mobility or sight. Facebook has decided to do something about the constant shortage of donors. 

The company has announced that members can now declare their desire to be an organ donor on their Facebook page. According to a press release signed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, "…by simply telling people that you're an organ donor, the power of sharing and connection can play an important role." 

I agree. 

Donor cards and check-offs on driver’s licenses work, but not well. Sixty-two percent of Colorado's licensed drivers and ID card holders have signed "yes," for instance. But in the rest of the U.S., many more Americans have not. For example, fewer than 15 percent have checked the driver’s license donor box in New York State. Since most Americans say they do want to donate when they die -- a Gallup study found 95 percent support organ donation -- and since most families, when asked, do consent to donation by a loved one, why the poor donor card rates?

The answer, in part, is that the Department of Motor Vehicles is not the best agency to recruit organ donors. As I have argued in a recent article in the American Journal of Bioethics with philosophy professors Kyle Whyte and Evan Selinger, asking people to do something nice for others when they have been stewing in a long line, getting angrier and angrier while they wait is not conducive to altruism.

True story about my experience at the DMV: When I went to renew my license here in Pennsylvania, I told the official at the counter that I wanted to be an organ donor. She frowned and said maybe that was not a good idea, since she had heard that people who check the wish to donate box might not get aggressive care at the hospital. She had heard wrong, of course. But the point is, being asked to donate by someone who does not know the facts, or, does not really care about them, while waiting in a crummy environment, is not the best way to identify donors.

Facebook can help. That's mostly because the power of a donor card really is to let others know about your wishes when you die. However, if for some reason your card is not found when you die, or your family and friends do not know you signed it, then your desire to donate might be unknown -- or ignored. Facebook gives one more avenue for others to learn about your wishes -- and that is all to the good.

Some might argue that it could be coercive to have your friends publicly state they want to be organ donors, especially if you are not sure. I don’t think so. The choice is yours, but seeing that your family and friends have chosen to donate is a fact that might sway, not coerce, your decision.

So, good for Facebook for trying to help find more donors for those in need. Let’s hope, for the sake of all those waiting for the gift of life, it helps.

What do you think of publicly sharing your organ donor status on Facebook? Tell us... on Facebook

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