New Facebook Status: Organ Donor

facebook organ donor(Image via Facebook.)

Perhaps you missed it, but April was Donate Life month here in Massachusetts, a month-long push to help people register as organ donors. But even if you didn’t see the media coverage on the designation, it’s likely you won’t be able to escape hearing about Facebook’s foray into the organ donation advocacy. The social media site announced this morning that it’s enabling its users to add their organ donor status to their timeline, an effort that organ donation groups say can save thousands of lives.

Right now, 114,000 patients are currently on transplant waiting lists throughout the country, 4,771 of which currently reside in New England. Every day 18 people on the waiting list die after not receiving the organs they need. Though many people support and believe in organ donation, too few of them actually take the steps to register, says Laura Dempsey, spokesperson for the New England Organ Bank. That’s where Facebook is hoping to provide a bit of social engineering to help nudge people to take action. Since this morning’s announcement, 500 people have already registered at the New England Organ Bank website (typically, they’ll get around 50 people registered per day).

And yes, you can actually register without having to go to the RMV. When you go online to announce your status as an organ donor on your profile — it’s under the “Life Events” tab, via the “Health and Wellness” category — you can also sign up to register as a donor (simply making a pronouncement on Facebook is not legally binding). The site will direct you to the Donate Life New England homepage, where you can take a few minutes to help save a life.

If the thought of having organ donation status updates mixed into your feed alongside baby pics, article links, and vacation snapshots throws you off, perhaps that’s a good thing. “I think there are a lot of people who pick up their drivers license form, look at the organ donor box, and say they’re not sure about organ donation and never cross it off,” says Dr. Bodhan Pomahac, the lead surgeon who performed the incredible face and hand transplant procedures at Brigham and Women’s Hospital last year. Unfortunately, most people only think about organ donation in “tragic unexpected circumstances,” he says. “It can be the wrong time to put your thoughts together and be generous. But the more people think about it, the more likely they will agree to it. It will open people’s minds.”

Dempsey hopes that using Facebook as a forum to discuss organ and tissue donation will help people feel more comfortable making such decisions and talking about them with their families. “The fact that it’s on Facebook, where everything is talked about and there are no boundaries, takes some of that fear and negativity out” of the conversation, she says. “Of course, we all hope that no one that we’re friends with on Facebook becomes an organ donor; we want them to live long lives. But if you die in a manner where it’s a possibility for you to go on and save other people, then check yes. We want to show people that it’s easy to do.”