Intimacy & Openness in Organ Donation

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MLibrary for Life Logo

Receiving or donating an organ is possibly the most intimate act two humans can share. Today’s news is all full of the buzz about Facebook’s new initiative to support organ donation awareness and outreach. From the general news to tech news to health news, this is getting a lot of attention.

“Zuckerberg admits that this won’t change things overnight, but he believes that it will help convince people who are undecided about registering to donate their organs to do so.”
TheNextWeb: Zuckerberg’s girlfriend and Steve Jobs’ liver transplant inspired Facebook’s new organ donor feature

“This is going to be an historic day in transplant,” said Dr. Cameron, adding that people who die for want of an organ do so mostly because there are not enough organ donors, not because of any shortcomings in medical technology. “The math will radically change, and we may well eliminate the problem. … We have attempted to have a sensitive conversation, one that addresses your mortality, at the D.M.V. Now we move the conversation into your own home or office with 120 of your closest friends on Facebook.”
NYTimes: Facebook Is Urging Members to Add Organ Donor Status

For the past few years, our library has been quite involved in recruiting new organ donor registrations. 2010 was the first annual MLibrary for Life Organ Donor Registration Drive, followed by 2011 Michigan Libraries for Life, and now gearing up for 2012!

Michigan Libraries for Life website screenshot
Michigan Libraries for Life

We even have a Facebook page for the organ donor project – ML4Life.

Facebook: Michigan Libraries for Life (ML4Life)
Michigan Libraries for Life (ML4Life):

You would think we would be huge supporters of this effort from Facebook, however, no matter how much we support this, there are good reasons to also have reservations. Facebook is notorious for mishandling private information. Some folk have concerns about Facebook keeping such intimate information.

Twitter on Facebook Organ Donation
Casey Newton: “Facebook, some of the data you collect kinda creeps me out.” “Totally. Now, which of your organs might we harvest in a tragedy?”

There are ongoing reports of organ harvesting in third world countries, and who knows? Perhaps beyond. A recent study from Michigan State describes about many ways in which the urgent need for organs serves as yet another way to make the most of social inequities.

So, it isn’t simple or straightforward. If we can truly change the numbers of registered donors, might that do away with some of the opportunities for black market organ harvesting? Or are people worried that having the information made public might place some at risk?

As with most information on Facebook, you can control the level of privacy and who sees the information.

Facebook Organ Donation

As with everything on Facebook, you are trusting them to get it right and do what you’ve asked with your information. For myself, I have added the organ donation status as a life event in my Facebook timeline. I found it really doesn’t show up in any obvious way. I became a donor years ago, so it is buried deep in my historical timeline. I don’t personally feel at risk or unsafe because of this decision, but can understand that others might. Ultimately, I hope that the benefit to all outweighs any risk.


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