Health

Facebook 'likes' donors

ROSEMARY LEED

May 25, 2012

The importance of knowing the wishes of your loved ones is at the centre of a new Facebook-led awareness campaign for organ and tissue donation.

Social networking giant Facebook has invited its 901 million users to share their organ donor status with friends and family by publishing it on their timeline.

Mia Garlick, head of policy and communications for Facebook Australia and New Zealand, told the Australian Associated Press that broader awareness could help to increase organ donation rates.

“We believe that by simply telling people that you are an organ donor, the power of sharing and connecting can really play an important role in increasing organ donation rates,” she said.

Australia has one of the lowest donation rates in the developed world, with more than 1600 people on waiting lists across the nation.

On average, Australians wait between six months and four years for a potentially lifesaving transplant.

Ilinka Savich, the Communications officer at DonateLife WA said the Facebook push was more about letting friends and family know your wishes than officially registering as an organ donor.

“Knowing what your loved ones want is more important than actually being on the organ donor register,” Ms Savich said.

“When a person dies, the family are asked to confirm their wishes, and if they’ve talked about it before or put it on Facebook, that’s encouraging enough for them to go ahead with the decision.

“If someone has registered but not told their family, and the family are asked to consider donation at the time of death, they won’t be anywhere near as confident to make the choice.”

In the United States, where an average of 18 people on transplant waiting lists die every day, the campaign has been well recieved.

The US previously averaged 506 new registrations a day but since the campaign started on April 30, more than 24,000 people have registered to donate their organs, according to DonateLife America.

Holly Northam, an Assistant Professor of Critical Care Nursing at the University of Canberra, is researching the factors that influence families that decline organ donation.

She said the move by Facebook had the potential to initiate conversation within families about organ donation.

“When most families are making the decision they might not have access to the organ donor register which is held by the medical staff, because they’re thinking ahead to what they might be asked,” she said.

“The hospital staff might still be in the mind frame of doing everything they can to save the life.

“It’s very important for the family to have something concrete, an actual statement to assure them of what the person wanted, and anything we can do to empower them at such a distressing time is great.”

Assistant Professor Northam said that registering your organ donor status on Facebook was not a legally binding decision but was very useful.

Facebook users will be able to choose how widely or narrowly they share their organ and tissue donation wishes.

If you have been asked to make an organ donation decision for a relative and wish to participate in research that gives you the chance to tell your story, you can email Professor Northam.

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