Facebook adds organ donor status


While the Cayman Islands sorts out its own organ donor status and awaits new legislation to be drafted, this week Facebook users get the opportunity to announce to the world if they’re organ donors. 

Facebook announced a plan Tuesday, 1 May, to encourage all Facebook users to update to highlight their donor status on their pages, along with their birth dates and schools. The objective is to add more names to the registered organ donor rolls. 

The concept was developed by two longtime friends, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Johns Hopkins transplant surgeon Dr. Andrew Cameron, who met up at their 20th college reunion last spring where they got talking about the critical shortage of donated organs in the United States. 

Facebook, with more than 800 million users, seemed an ideal medium through which to reach a massive section of the population. 

Since Tuesday, Facebook users can share their organ donor status with friends and family in the same way they share information about where they went to college or who they are married to.  

“Doctors save lives one person at a time. Sheryl is able to reach people millions at a time,” said Dr. Cameron, an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and surgical director of liver transplantation. “We have a public health problem that really just needs education, communication and discussion. It’s a great match.” 

More than 114,000 people are waiting for hearts, livers and kidneys and other organs in the United States and someone dies every four hours waiting for a transplant.  

In the Cayman Islands, 45 people are on dialysis in local hospitals and eight are on a waiting list in the United States for a new kidney. A human tissue and organ donation and transplantation law is being drafted in Cayman, but in the meantime, no donations or transplantations may be done locally. 

In surveys in the US, as many as 90 per cent of Americans say they favour organ transplantation, but only 30 per cent of the 200 million in the US with driver’s licenses are official organ donors. That leaves a large number of people in the middle who are conceptually in agreement with the idea but haven’t officially checked the box to make their wishes known. 

The hope with the Facebook campaign is that with many people updating their statuses to show they are organ donors, the idea will go viral and prompt people to find out more about the urgent need for organ transplants and, in turn, influence them to register officially as organ donors. 

“It’s an awkward and difficult conversation to have about what will happen to you after you die, and the department of motor vehicles is a particularly difficult environment in which to ask people to make important decisions about their lives,” Dr. Cameron said. “But Facebook, where you are already sharing your wishes and thoughts and likes with your friends and loved ones, may be a natural place to share your feelings about organ donation. This application will make having that conversation even easier.” 

In a blog post Tuesday morning, Ms Sandberg and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that adding a tool to share organ donor status is another step in the evolution of the social network into a powerful vehicle for communication and problem solving. 

“As this happens, we hope to build tools that help people transform the way we all solve worldwide social problems,” they wrote. “Medical experts believe that broader awareness about organ donation could go a long way toward solving this crisis. 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.” 

In Facebook’s new timeline, users can add “organ donor” to their life events. 

“I can’t tell you how many times a family, faced with the death of a loved one, says they wished they had asked about organ donation before that person died,” Dr.Cameron said. 

He and a team at Johns Hopkins intend to study the effect the Facebook effort has on organ donation rates. If it is successful, Dr. Cameron says he believes it could be used as a prototype for tackling other challenging public health problems. 

“Getting people to donate their organs has been an intractable public health problem. It stands in contrast to other public health campaigns such as seat belts or drunk driving, which have had major impacts,” he says. “If we succeed on Facebook with organ donation, it could be a model for how to use of-the-moment social media to solve important 
medical issues.” 

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