Facebook is now in the business of saving lives, with another change it hopes all of its members will move swiftly to "like."
The social network behemoth announced Tuesday morning a plan to encourage its millions of friends to start advertising their organ donor status on their Facebook pages. Facebook hopes the status update will create a kind of gentle peer pressure that will urge its 161 million U.S. members to add their names to the list of registered donors.
More than 114,000 people in the United States, and millions more worldwide, are waiting for life saving heart, liver or kidney transplants. On average, 18 die per day because there aren't enough organs for transplants.
Facebook aims to change that.
The status change is being rolled out first in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, where Facebook has some 30 million members.
Plans are to add other countries in the coming months.
Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement, "We never could have anticipated that what started as a small network would evolve into such a powerful tool for communication and problem solving."
Facebook Organ Donor Status
When someone signs up with an official state registry, it is a legal declaration that allows their organs to be donated without family consent.
But if those who aren't on an official state registry instead affirm themselves as organ donors on Facebook, it just may accelerate the sensitive decision for families to approve a donation.
Dr. Andrew M. Cameron, the surgical director of liver transplants at John Hopkins Hospital, told The New York Times that disclosure on Facebook could present evidence of consent family members need when deciding whether to donate the organs of a loved one.
"This is going to be an historic day in transplants. The math will radically change, and we may well eliminate the problem overnight," said Cameron.
Members will be able to declare and update their organ donation status in a section called "Health and Wellness." This section includes other biographical information such as whether a person has shed some pounds or broken a bone.
Also featured will be links to state online donor registries where people can change their donor status. Of course, they can also still do it by visiting the local motor vehicle department.
Facebook Hoping for Power in Numbers
The Facebook venture into unchartered territory, from social networking into social engineering, could have a potentially weighty effect, according to experts in the field of organ donation. Through status updates in which people state that they are organ donors, they could sway scores of others to do the same.
Most of the people in need of an organ transplant die because of a shortage of organ donors, not medical limitations, according to Dr. Cameron. He estimates that millions of people will change their status overnight. To date, less than half of American adults have signed up to be an organ donor.
Prior efforts to promote organ donation have not made much headway, Cameron stressed, citing that the issue of organ donation is a very personal one. In addition, the decision is made at the motor vehicle department where many people may not feel comfortable making a decision relating to death.
Cameron said, "We have continued to have a sensitive conversation, one that addresses your mortality, at the D.M.V. Now we move the conversation into your own home or office with 120 of your closest friends on Facebook."
Globally, Facebook boasts about 900 million members. There is monumental strength in numbers. Facebook might have the clout to make a real change in the field of organ donation.
"As this happens, we hope to build tools that help people transform the way we all solve worldwide social problems," said Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in a statement.
The move could also create informal alternatives to registries that lead to more organ donations. Experts stressed, however, that the Facebook Website will not evolve into the primary organ donor registry.