Facebook Initiative Encourages Organ Donation

Inspired by events such as last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which left countless Japanese citizens in need of unavailable medical attention, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is attempting to mobilize organ donator registration among company’s community of 900 odd million users.

Facebook is partnering with Donate Life America, a national umbrella organization for local groups working to increase the number of registered organ, eye and tissue donors, adding a new and human depth to the social network's role in “keeping people connected.” In its announcement last Tuesday, the social networking behemoth said that it will allow its members to share their donor status with friends and family and to link to state databases where people in the United States can register online to officially become donors. And the results have already been staggering.

"It's absolutely critical at this time when online communication and social media are really the way people are communicating," said Julia Rivera, director of communications for the New York Organ Donor Network.

"This is great news,” agrees John Green, community relations director for the Gift of Life Donr Program, based in Philadelphia. “It has the potential to be one of the biggest campaigns to increase donor designation that we've ever seen."

According to Donate Life America, Nearly 114,000 men, women and children are currently waiting for a lifesaving transplant, while thousands more are in need of tissue or corneal transplants to resume normal lives or restore sight. Meanwhile, less than 50% of adults in the US have signed up to be an organ donor through their state registry.

The hope is that Facebook’s initiative will bring out the conversation around organ donation and propel it into the realm of social media trends—a far and noble cry from your standard Facebook memes (God knows, I think we’ve all had enough of “FML” and “Texts from Last Night.”)

"We're hoping people will be excited about the initiative and it will prompt them to take the next step and register to be a donor," said Aisha Huertas Michel, who works with Donate Life America.

Sure enough, last Tuesday, the first day of the initiative, organ donation registries in 10 states reported as many new volunteer donors as they typically see in one month. According to Donate Life America’s stats, California alone witnessed a 700 percent increase over the number of new volunteers on a typical day.

By Tuesday evening, 100,000 people had declared themselves organ donors on their Facebook profiles, a critical step, physicians said, in speeding the organ donation process because it lets families know their relatives' wishes.

Among those 100,000 users, 10,000 had linked through Facebook to sign up directly with their state organ donation registries.

Surgeons and transplant advocates have heralded the program, calling the initiative a "game changer."

In an interview on Good Morning America on Tuesday, Zuckerberg also cited his longtime girlfriend Priscilla Chan, who is studying to become a pediatrician, in inspiring the initiative. "Our dinner conversations are often about Facebook and kids, and the kids that she's meeting," he said. "She'll see them getting sicker, then, all of a sudden, an organ becomes available, and she comes home and her face is all lit up because someone's life is going to be better because of this."

Dr. Jeffrey Punch, director of transplant surgery at the University of Michigan, was also complimentary of Facebook’s efforts, though not without emphasizing the severe need for organ donors in the real world, not just online. "This is a huge step forward," he said. "But nothing is going to solve donation problem overnight."

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Thu, 30 Oct 2014 19:13:31 -0400

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