Thousands Declare Organ Donor Status on Facebook

By  //  May 5, 2012

Healthcare and Social Networking

(Video from WSJDigitalNetwork)

More than 114,000 Americans are currently on waiting lists for transplants of kidneys, livers, hearts and other organs, according to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the organization that runs the nation’s transplant system. More than 6,600 died last year waiting for an organ.

Mark Zeukenberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook.

Data from UNOS indicates that 43 percent of adults in the U.S. are presently registered as donors, but organs can only be used under certain circumstances, such as when someone dies from a major head injury and a ventilator can keep the organs viable. Less than 1 percent of U.S. deaths annually are under such circumstances, and it is not uncommon for an opportunity to donate to be lost because family members were unaware of a person’s wishes related to donation of their organs.

On Tuesday, Facebook co-creator and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, who has taken a personal interest in organ donation, announced a plan intended to build peer pressure around organ donation and encourage more people to register as donors by urging its 161 million U.S.  and 30 million United Kingdom users to advertise their organ donor status on their profiles.  There are plans to subsequently roll out the feature in several other countries as well.

Organ donation status can typically be updated via online registries or at motor vehicle departments. Now, with the Facebook feature, users are allowed to indicate their decision to be an organ donor on the website through a “Health and Wellness” biographical information page, which includes links to state online donor registries.

Facebook is working directly with Donate Life America, a not-for-profit alliance of national organizations and state teams across the United States committed to increasing organ donation, to encourage Facebook users to also officially register as donors with their state.

Facebook user response has been overwhelming, with over 6,000 new enrollees on the website as organ donors through 22 state registries by Tuesday night after it was offered. Contrast that to a typical day in which less than 400 sign up.

In a statement from UNOS by their Executive director, Walther Graham, this new Facebook feature is lauded as “a unique opportunity for people to make their decision known, and provide the reassurance that family members need when deciding whether to donate their loved one’s organs.” As with some personal information on Facebook, organ donor status can be kept private or shared publicly or only with friends.

National reaction to this new offering by such a high-profile, well respected social networking platform has been overwhelmingly positive.

Dee Rogers (second from left, bottom row) with the Health First Tiger Team. (Image for

Dee Rogers, Co-Chair of the Health First Tiger Team (SCM pg. 72), a group committed to creating public awareness of the need for organ and tissue donation through a variety of local and regional programs, said about the new Facebook feature, “This is an innovative approach to heightening awareness and  encouraging people to consider organ donation using a wildly popular, world-wide social network.  We’re delighted and now have another very powerful tool to help us meet our mission.”

It’s impossible to predict how long this accelerated activity may last and at what level. However, it is a truly rare and somewhat courageous move into social engineering by Facebook, a social network site founded in 2004 with 526 million daily users around the world, that experts say could significantly affect organ donation and lead millions of users to change their status overnight.