Facebook announced a new initiative last Tuesday to promote organ donation among its members, according to multiple news reports.
Users of the social media giant now have the ability to publicize whether they are interested and eligible for donating certain organs, and Facebook has also linked the new profile feature to a Web site for organ registry, should users be inclined to sign up for the cause.
While enlisting for organ donation typically occurs at the Department of Motor Vehicles, scholars and organ donation advocates have intimated that Facebook’s new feature may amplify the number of organ donors and potentially narrow the significant discrepancy between donors and recipients currently plaguing the nation.
There are 114,000 people waiting for organ transplants in the U.S. today, the Times reported, citing the government’s Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. Approximately 7,000 people die waiting for organ transplant in the U.S. annually, the report also found.
Experts in the organ donation field have largely lauded Facebook for its altruistic enterprise, saying the effects of social media in igniting large scale social trends is well documented. The hope is that, by listing their organ donation status on Facebook, and making the subject part of the Facebook conversation, greater awareness will translate into greater organ donation registry among members.
In addition, some say the introduction of the Facebook feature will now help the bereaved learn more about the deceased’s earlier feelings about organ donation. What often happens is that families fail to consent to the release of organs for donation because they are uncertain, and remain unconvinced, that their loved ones would have wanted to posthumously donate organs. Facebook may provide an informal confirmation of one’s decision on the matter.
In a statement published on May 1, CEO of Facebook Marc Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg coauthored a statement about the new project.
“Today, more than 114,000 people in the United States, and millions more around the globe, are waiting for the heart, kidney or liver transplant that will save their lives,” the statement reads. “Many of those people – an average of 18 people per day – will die waiting, because there simply aren’t enough organ donors to meet the need.”
“Medical experts believe that broader awareness about organ donation could go a long way toward solving this crisis,” the statement continues. “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.”
According to a Daily News report that appeared last Wednesday—a day after the new feature was launched—the organ donation status addition is already paying significant dividends. An 800% increase in new organ volunteers had taken place by May 2 in California, and Minnesota saw registrations multiply ninety-fold at the same time.
For some organ donation advocacy organizations, news of Facebook’s new feature is helpful in the sense that it will improve awareness of the issue and its pervasiveness. But such organizations have also issued a caveat to potential donors to understand the importance of familial conversation in making a decision about organ donation.
“All effort to raise awareness about the need for organ donors is a good thing,” explained Robby Berman to founder and director of the Halachic Organ Donor Society, an organization which works to save lives by encouraging organ donations among Jews and the general public. “But an organ donor card or listing on Facebook cannot replace the ‘conversation’ that one has with his or her family.”
“In spite of an organ donor card or expressing one’s intention on Facebook, ultimately the family will make the decision,” Berman concluded in a statement to the Jewish Voice.