Can We Talk: Organ Donation (Social Media Ethics)

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Welcome to our last installment in our organ donation series. If you’ve missed the previous posts, you can find them here (part 1) and here (part 2). This time we will compare and contrast of the pros and cons of using social media to recruit organ donors. According to the digital marketing website, Smart Insights, Facebook has about 1.6 billion users, Instagram has 400 million users, and Twitter has 320 million users as of April 2016. Most of us are apart of this number in one way or another. Pretty much anything can be promoted on these sites and they have become a very useful marketing tool. But should we use social media to encourage people to become organ donors? This issue has become the most ethically prominent with living donations. An article on Slate tells the story of a parent who posted on her Facebook page that she nor her husband were a match for their infant daughter in need of a kidney. In about 24 hours, the family had 100 offers for kidneys. How should we feel about this?


On one hand – social media is a a fabulous tool for efficiently reaching a lot of people. We all know that organs are not only hard to come by, but are hard to match as well. Expanding the pool would help solve that issue. Imagine if even half of the 1.6 billion Facebook users decided to become organ donors. The transplant list would decrease and make room for others who need an organ. The other reason this could be a good thing is that would quickly inform someone’s general public for the need of an organ. Black Lives Matter is an analogous example. Black Lives Matter is an organization that has been at the forefront of the police brutality movement in the United States. Their goal and strategy was to bring to the forefront the effect that police brutality has on black communities. Through the use of social media, Black Lives Matter became a household name and ultimately forced a conversation about the issue. They informed many people about the issue and injustice of police brutality and educated a generation. Using social media to inform the general public of an individual’s need for a transplant could create a wildfire effect and galvanize the every man to get involved in organ donation.


On the other hand, social media could cause other issues. For starters, using social media to promote organ donation in this case could be coercive for the wrong reasons. Social media is a device used for story telling – literally (if you are on Snapchat or Instagram) and figuratively. Some stories are more coercive than others. According to the American Journal of Transplantation, this dynamic is called a “beauty contest” effect. It explains this phenomenon with organ donation websites that post profiles and biographies of future organ recipients to encourage people to donate to them. This dynamic could transfer to social media as well. No one likes seeing babies or children suffer. However, organ donation shouldn’t be based on who has the saddest story. It should be about altruism. Social media definitely has the potential to interfere with that. Another issue is that it can make living organ donation somewhat unequal. Living donation is already dependent on someone’s willingness to give an organ that already belongs to them. Increasing the pool for one individual would make things inherently unfair for those with a more limited pool social resources. In spite of the statistics given above, everyone doesn’t have social media. If one group is receiving an overabundance of limited resources, that means someone else is loosing that opportunity. Social media could tip the scales in a not-so-favorable way.

So what do you guys think – is social media a help or a hindrance? Feel free to comment below and thanks for reading this series on organ donation!


The Neighborhood Bioethicist


Duerr, Benjamin. “Should Patients Be Able to Find Organ Donors on Facebook?” The Atlantic, April 15, 2015.
“How Organ Donation Works, Organ Donation Information |” Html. Accessed June 19, 2017.
“Most Popular Social Networks Global.” Smart Insights. Accessed July 10, 2017.
“Organ Donation.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed June 20, 2017.
“Organ Donation: Don’t Let These Myths Confuse You.” Mayo Clinic. Accessed June 29, 2017.
“Public Solicitation of Anonymous Organ Donors: A Position… : Transplantation.” LWW. Accessed June 30, 2017. doi:10.1097/TP.0000000000001514.
“To Donate Your Kidney, Click Here.” The New Yorker. Accessed June 30, 2017.

2 thoughts on “Can We Talk: Organ Donation (Social Media Ethics)

  1. Disclaimer: I work in the Transplant industry.

    I think you’ve done a fantastic job of laying out the pros and cons of social media storytelling the Donation and Transplantation. Most of the Facebook posts I have seen regarding donation are coming from OPOs with whom my company has a relationship, so that may influence my perception. My thinking on the issue is that any information that lets people put a face to the thousands of people on organ waiting lists is good information. The donor matching process used by UNOS ensures that the beauty contest effect is mitigated. I think it’s likely someone might see a story that resonates for them, and causes them to re-think their decision not to check Yes on the Registry. And yes, tugging on heart strings seems to be an effective way to get people to think about it. Since people on the Organ waiting list are there because they are seriously sick and need the transplant to live long-term, the emotional appeal is not out of place.

    Liked by 1 person

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