Facebook Wants to Status Update Your Organs

Can Facebook save lives with a new app that tells the world when you signed up your innards for donation?

You talk about your relationship status, the cute things your dog did today and even what you had for breakfast on Facebook. So why not add your donor registry status to the mix?

Facebook announced its plan today to allow users to add their organ donor status to their Facebook timeline. The app provides links to donor registry sites in one’s state, so users can choose to donate their organs right there and then, and then post it to their wall, along with a video or status update that explains why they made the decision. Facebook hopes its new tool will create enough peer pressure to make more people become donors.

According to Good Morning America, most Americans support organ donation, but less than half (40 percent to be precise) register as organ donors. They also report that roughly 18 people die every day waiting for an organ transplant – that comes out to 6,570 people a year.

While that’s not nothing, it IS a relatively small number compared to other health crises in the world. For instance, a Harvard Medical School study reports that 45,000 Americans die annually due to a lack of health insurance. Meanwhile, smoking and obesity – two preventable health issues -- claim 435,000 and 300,000 lives respectively every year. If Facebook is going to take this foray into the health sphere, I wonder why they’re starting here. Shouldn’t we be talking about our health insurance status or why we oppose smoking?

Plus, if 40 percent of Americans are registered, and over 2 million die a year, the numbers don’t add up. Is it really a lack of donors that accounts for the organ shortage? According to a University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics report, one of the reasons why organ transplants are so low is because there are fewer healthy people dying. In the past, organ donations relied heavily on fatal car crashes. However, thanks to the effectiveness of seat belt campaigns and air bag use, there are fewer healthy human organs available for transplant. So while we do need more people to donate their organs, we also need more young people to die from unnatural causes.

And that’s where the discomfort comes in. Talking about organ donation is creepy, because it means you have think about meeting an early demise. Andrew M. Cameron, the surgical director of liver transplantation at Johns Hopkins Hospital (who supports the move), told The New York Times, “the issue is sensitive and personal.” Cameron also told the times that the reason organ donor registries have failed is because we’re asking them to make the decision at the DMV, “where many people may not want to focus on the prospect of dying.”

The thing is, are people more inclined to think about this on Facebook? I’m not sure what the timeline of your friends’ status updates looks like, but mine is usually filled with the mundane and comical things that go on in a person’s everyday life. Those are the statuses that get the most likes and the most comments. When people post about their causes, not too many people respond. It’s not that I’m not against this new Facebook initiative: if it encourages people to sign up as organ donors, that’s a good thing. But at a time where people are starting to wonder just how much room they should allow Facebook in their daily lives, here it is finding ways to intrude into even more areas. I know I should be happy that Facebook is making an effort to cure a social ill instead of simply rehashing our dumb musings, but it still feels like someone just walked into a birthday party and started asking guests to contribute to their fundraising event.

Advertising your good deeds is a way for people to feel good about themselves even if they’re not really doing anything. And I can’t help but bristle at feeling pressured to do something “good” even when I’m already doing it.

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