By WADE STEPHENS
A new option on Facebook allows Australian users to show if they are registered organ donors.
When a user elects to explore this feature, a link appears on the website, guiding unregistered donors through to Australia’s online organ donation registry, DonateLife.
CEO of the Organ and Tissue Authority, Yael Cass, believes this feature is an invaluable asset to the plight for increased organ donation.
“It’s a hugely significant communications tool, and discussions prompt,” Ms Cass says.
“What Facebook delivers us is an additional 10 million Australians, who can update their own personal profile and use it to register officially.”
According to the latest statistics, over 1600 Australians are waiting on organ donations, and only 14.9 out of every million Australians end up bestowing organ and tissue when receiving end of life care.
Australia, on May 8, became the fourth country to introduce the social media page’s option, following the US and UK on May 2, and the Netherlands on May 7.
The history of the feature, according to Ms Cass, was that Facebook’s Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg developed a personal interest in boosting organ donor designation registration in the US.
“It arose out of an observation by Facebook in the US, that they could use their members’ profiles for some public good,” Ms Cass says.
“The data [in the US] since they announced the donor option is intriguing, they had 24,000 additional people sign up on their organ donor site [in less than a week].”
Despite such positive increases, marketing analyst from the University of South Australia, Dr Jenni Romanuik, is concerned the option could be exploited.
“Anything that highlights the need and makes it easy for people to donate organs is a good thing,” Dr Romanuik says.
“However, we need to be a bit careful not to step over the line, and create a market for organs, where people start putting others into contact with people who buy organs.
“I would hate to see this becoming a medium where either people could take advantage of those in desperate straits, or for the sake of wanting to live, [where] people are driven to do things which are questionably ethical.”
Double organ transplant recipient and founder of donation advocacy group Sharelife Australia, Brian Myerson, agrees.
“Unfortunately, and that was one of my problems when I heard this was going on a social network; all these wonderful media ideas can be twisted around by people who haven’t got the best intentions,” Mr Myerson says.
Dr Romanuik proposed a hypothetical situation.
“You know, “I suddenly have kidney problems” and I go onto Facebook and find people willing to donate their organs and say “can I have your kidney now? I’ll give you 10 grand for it;” that type of situation,” Dr Romanuik says.
“That’s when it becomes a little bit more ethically and legally challenging.
“Will it get to that state? I don’t know, but I also then don’t see what would not let it get to that state.”
Ms Cass believes that such a thing should not happen and says that adding the “Registered as an Organ Donor” Life Event to your profile is not a legally binding record.
“It’s also not a mandatory option, it’s just an additional option that people can select.”
Facebook users can elect to share the information about their organ and tissue donation wishes as widely or narrowly as they would’d like.
They can share the information just with friends, with friends of friends, or choose to keep the information completely private.
In a media release, CEO of Facebook Australia, Sheryl Sandberg, hopes the tool “can help drive broader awareness about organ and tissue donation, and prompt more families to discuss their donation wishes.”
Mr Myerson thinks that despite Facebook’s promotional intentions, they might be missing the most important issue.
“I don’t have much faith in this marketing to the public… I believe that they’re blaming the public, that public aren’t talking to their families, and that is absolutely wrong,” Mr Myerson says.
“To me, the whole emphasis must be on what goes on in the hospitals, particularly with the expert staff working with those families.
“Success relies on how the families are handled, and I really believe Facebook may be able to make those people who do the requesting feel more confident in approaching the family.
“Organ donation could become a bigger part of day to day life through Facebook, and this thereby improves the hospital organ donor process.”
But the potential of social media enlarging the discussion and promotion of organ and tissue donation seems an altruistic one, even to critics.
“If it ends up being all about raising awareness issues and allowing you to make your views very clear to the people you care about, and that are close to you, I think that’s fabulous,” Dr Romanuik says.
As Ms Cass puts it;, “The more Australians who make a decision and tell their family and their friends, the better, because then their wishes will be upheld if they’re ever in a situation where they could be an organ donor.
“Just as the Australian Organ Donor Registry, we’re not requiring people to register, we have an opt in system in Australia of consent for donation, which means it is up to the individual to make a decision and to act; that still stands.”