• Tue, May 1 2012

Facebook Could Save Your Life, Thanks To New Push For Organ Donation

mark zuckerberg organ donation

During a late-night trip down Facebook Memory Lane (come on, we’ve all done it…possibly after a few glasses of red wine), you may find out the following information about your old friends: their relationship status, where they work, what they’ve eaten for brunch lately (thanks, Instagram!), and, in the very near future, whether or not they are an organ donor.

According to the New York Times, Facebook has announced that they will soon (and by “soon” they mean “probably today”) launch a new “Health and Wellness” feature, which will feature other health statistics–and maybe encourage a healthier lifestyle? Here’s hoping!– right alongside the rest of your personal information. Your donor status will be one of the prompts, a move which those in the field (i.e., people who work with the organ registry, also known as “people who save lives”) call “historic.” Because it really is. From the article:

Previous efforts to encourage organ donation have struggled, Dr. Cameron said, because the issue is sensitive and personal and because the decision is made at the motor vehicle department, where many people may not want to focus on the prospect of dying. Fewer than half of adult Americans have signed up to be an organ donor.

Each year, over 7,000 people die waiting for an organ, while perfectly viable ones are cremated or buried, due to lack of awareness, privacy concerns, or uninformed (and grieving) family members.

The decision, according to ABC News, came to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg over dinner with his girlfriend, who is currently in medical school. It was then that she informed him of the dire lack of organ donors–and that he decided that, with a captive audience of 160 million US citizens, he stood to actually make a real difference. Zuck also credited Steve Jobs, whose live could have been dramatically extended had he received a liver donation.

Of course, like every new thing Facebook ever does, the immediate reaction from many people is that it is creepy and weird and oppressively engaging in our personal lives. But the thing about Facebook is that it’s already a part of our lives. You’ve probably already told it your religion, who your friends are, where you work, where you live, what your political stance is, your sexual orientation–all of which is just as personal as your organ donation status, if not more. And for many of us, that information is listed on our drivers’ license or other form of government-issued identification, anyway. Because wanting to donate your organs after you die is kind of like a will; it doesn’t really do a lot of good for the living if the wishes of the deceased were kept a secret.

What’s neat about this little bit of advocacy is that, unlike other hip, buzzed-about campaigns for change (hey, where is Joseph Kony, anyway?), organ donation is precisely in line with the capabilities of most of today’s armchair activists (a.k.a. “slacktivists”). Much like online petitions, the decision to list organ donation status, or become a donor in the first place, takes all of two to three clicks–you just set it and forget it. The real act (and the real impact) doesn’t happen until, heaven forbid, something happens to you.

The move also raises interesting questions about Facebook’s future in the realm of health and wellness. Because, while it may seem weird to have your medical records or other personal health information online through a social networking site, the fact is that, for many of us, Facebook is a portal to our actual lives, available right on our phone. Imagine you find yourself in an ER, unable to move or speak, while doctors try to figure out who you are, who to contact.

They could zip through your contact book looking for “Mom” or “Dad,” or they could pull up your Facebook app and see where you’re from, who you recently spoke with, who you’re dating, where you work (and maybe, what your insurance there is like), and, at some point in the future, even what medications you’re on. With 900 million users logged in and voluntarily offering up their personal information, adding those (private) pieces of data might change the way we treat serious situations.

But all of that is still far off. What’s coming soon is an awesome outreach program by one of the most ubiquitous forces in the modern era. Facebook is poised to actually do some good and, in a very real way, possibly save lives. And while that may feel like an overstep to some, to those who have lost a loved one while they anxiously awaited a new lung, liver, or heart, it’s a conversation that needs to happen.

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