In a truly social move, Facebook has added a timeline tool that lets its 161 million members in the U.S. and 30 million U.K. members share their organ donor status with friends in order to facilitate connecting potential donors and recipients.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News for Good Morning America that aired today on Mayday appropriately, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the life-saving commitment: "What we hope will happen is that by just having this simple tool, we think that people can really help spread awareness of organ donation and that they want to participate in this to their friends. That can be a big part of helping solve the crisis that's out there."
The plan — outlined in a co-bylined piece by Zuckerberg and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on the ABC News website — is to leverage social media to encourage more organ donors. With the new Facebook feature, users can register as organ, eye and tissue donors and link to the donor registry in their state as well as post videos or status updates about their decision to be a donor as well as indicate their wish to donate upon death.
It’s a simple process for a potentially life-saving feature: on the timeline, click "Life Event," select "Health and Wellness," and add "choose Organ Donor."
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, about 28,000 transplants occurred last year; more than 114,000 Americans are on waiting lists for kidneys, livers, hearts and other vital organs; every day, an estimated 18 people die while waiting.
The inspiration for the new feature is due in part to Harvard alum, Dr. Andrew Cameron, a transplant surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Cameron had written a piece for his Harvard reunion class report about the egregious donor situation which Sandberg, also at the reunion, rea, and then suggested that Facebook could help. “It was a chills-up-the-spine moment,” recalls Cameron. "There's going to be a 100 million people around the world that declare they want to be an organ donor in the next four days. I think that might happen," he commented to PC Mag.
While it remains to be seen what percentage of Facebook users take the step, every action can only help, as fewer than 50% of adult Americans currently registered as organ donors. "I think it's possible that we will see an impact over the next couple of years, where we would imagine eliminating the transplant waiting list," Cameron told ABC News.
"We've got 100,000 people waiting. Each donor can help three or four of those waiting. If we could do twice as well as we're doing now, if we could get another 10,000 donors a year, I think we could have that transplant waiting list down to almost nothing in three or four years. That would be a spectacular moment in medical history and in the history of public health."
Zuckerberg says he was also inspired by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who was unable to find a suitable liver in his home state of California and had to fly to Tennessee for a donor organ in 2009; and his girlfriend, Priscilla Chan, who's a medical student. It's just the latest example of how Facebook is iterating social networking into social engineering. With close to 900 million members worldwide, the potential and immediacy is virtually unprecedented.
“We never could have anticipated that what started as a small network would evolve into such a powerful tool for communication and problem solving,” said Zuckerberg and Sandberg in a joint statement. “As this happens, we hope to build tools that help people transform the way we all solve worldwide social problems.”
James Pardes of the New York Organ Donor Network tells WSJ.com he's excited by the move, but it's critical that potential U.S. donors also register on their state registry or Donate Life America's website: