Facebook encourages organ donation

The organ donation community applauded Facebook's announcement this week that it will allow its 900 million members to share their donor status with friends and family, and to link to state databases where Americans can sign up online to become donors.

"This is great news. It has the potential to be one of the biggest campaigns to increase donor designation that we've ever seen," said John Green, of the Gift of Life Donor Program, based in Philadelphia. "It's absolutely critical at this time when online communication and social media are really the way people are communicating," said Julia Rivera, of the New York Organ Donor Network.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told Good Morning America that the organ donation feature was motivated by disasters such as the tsunami and earthquake in Japan last year and the social network's role in keeping people connected. Facebook will partner with Donate Life America, a national umbrella organisation for local groups which works to increase the number of registered organ, tissue and eye donors.

Many have expressed optimism about the new feature, such as bioethicist Art Caplan, of the University of Pennsylvania. He wrote:

"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… Let’s hope, for the sake of all those waiting for the gift of life, it helps."

Summer Johnson McGee, PhD, co-editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Bioethics, highlighted potential downsides of Facebook's new organ donation feature. She wrote in her blog:

"A concern related to the second one above is that the Facebook status update provides no education to potential donors as they make the choice. Arguably that isn’t the job of Facebook, but I think it should offer a few more links to information about the decision to donate than a link to your state’s registry." ~ USA Today, May 2; American Journal of Bioethics Blog, Mar 11

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