Facebook: Pressuring Users to Become Organ Donors?

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD


May 17, 2012

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Hi. I am Art Caplan, speaking to you from the University of Pennsylvania Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy. Today I am going to talk about a recent decision by Facebook to get involved with encouraging organ donation. The CEO of that big online giant announced that they will give people the opportunity to register themselves or show that they want to be organ donors when they die.

It is likely that some physicians and other healthcare professionals may get questions from their patients about this: Is that a good thing to do? Should they do it? I think it is [a good thing] and this is why. I believe it is great to try to recruit more donors, and Facebook certainly is a way to do that. In fact, just since the announcement, there has been a jump in the number of people who say that they want to be organ donors.

But listing yourself [as an organ donor] on Facebook has an even more important consequence. A lot of people sign [the organ donor line] on their driver's license or carry a card from the Kidney Foundation, but they do not tell anyone that they have done this. That means that other people do not know their wishes, and if their driver's license somehow is separated from them after an accident, if the wallet or purse doesn't go right to the hospital with the patient, then people may not know that this person wanted to be an organ donor. Having this information on your account lets people know your wishes. It not only increases the number of donors, it increases the chance of donation.

What you put on Facebook is not legally binding, but it is a great way to let family and friends know your wishes. Again, I suspect they are much more likely to find [your directive] on Facebook than on your driver's license, which I doubt anyone ever takes a look at. A few people have asked me, "Well, isn't that a little coercive, having this kind of information, personal information, up there?" I don't think so. I think it is simply a choice; if you see friends or family members are signing up, you don't have to, and if you wish, you can decide not to make [your organ donor status] public. You can say, "I want to be an organ donor but keep the posting private."

At the end of the day, I believe that asking people about whether they want to be an organ donor is just one of those questions they have to face, so I don't see it as coercive. There may be a little peer pressure to do it, but I think that's a good thing. I support what Facebook has done. I do not think they are out to market, or advertise, or make money out of this. I think they are just trying to do a good deed. I commend them for it. I think it will lead to more people saying they want to be organ donors, because other people can see what you put on Facebook. It seems to me to be good all around and something that physicians should encourage their patients to do.

I'm Art Caplan. I am at the University of Pennsylvania, Department of Medical Ethics. Thanks for watching.


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