Facebook and Organ Donation: Sharing Life

Hopkins doctors focus the social network on a difficult problem


A crisis in our country

Today, 18 Americans will die waiting on a transplant list for an organ that doesn’t come.  Over 100,000 Americans wait on the list and still the gap between donations and those waiting has only widened over the last decades.  In fact, over the last twenty years, despite the efforts of many in the public health arena, the number of donors per year has remained essentially unchanged while waiting recipients have increased almost tenfold.  This crisis in our country is largely a social problem which requires increased efforts in education and discussion.


Why don’t people register to become donors?

Some may have not thought about the topic, or feel uncomfortable discussing the issue of their own mortality.  Some may not have had a convenient or appropriate opportunity to register or may be confused by the process.  Others may be under misconceptions that consent will result in a less vigorous attempt to save their life when ill, or that the transplant system is somehow unfair.  When polled, the American public is overwhelmingly supportive of donation and organ transplantation (95% in favor) but ultimately only 30-50% in any given state are registered by the DMV.  As each donor has the potential to save eight or more lives with donation, changing donation rates would have a major impact on the problem.

The Facebook Organ Donor Initiative

On May 1st, Facebook altered their “Timeline” platform to allow users to select “organ donor” as part of their profile status.  (Here’s a link to show you how to do it! It’s easy!) When a person selects the organ donor option on Facebook, two important things happen.  First, they are given a link to their state donor registry.  This quick, easy, and free process takes just 2 minutes and makes it official.  Secondly, when a person selects “organ donor” on Facebook, their friends are made aware of this decision and are given the option to do the same themselves.  If someone considering organ donation remains unsure about the decision, Facebook offers links to provide information on the facts and myths of the organ donation process.  It is our hope that discussion and awareness on the great need for organ donation goes viral on Facebook and we can turn the tables on this problem.

How are we Doing?

In the first couple of days after Facebook started offering “organ donor” as a profile status over 100,000 members chose the option.  We have examined state donor registries in all 50 states for the first week of May and see a 1,000% increase in donation rates across the country!  Facebook plans to roll out the organ donor option in every country on the planet and soon all of Facebook’s one billion users will have easy access to donor registration.  Discussion and communication “amongst friends” may be the way to get people thinking about organ donation and agreeing to share the gift of life.  Together we can work together, share life, and solve the crisis that we face, today!

Learn more at these four links about the Facebook Organ Donor Initiative by visiting these sites: The New York Times, National Public Radio News Station WYPR, The Baltimore Sun  and ABC News.


Andrew Cameron is an Associate Professor of Surgery and the Director of Liver Transplantation at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Cameron attended the Johns Hopkins Medical School and trained in surgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He pursued fellowship training at UCLA studying liver transplantation and now focuses on hepatobiliary surgery. His clinical interests include End Stage Liver Disease, Hepatitis C, and hepatocellular cancer. Dr. Cameron runs a basic science laboratory studying models of immunosuppression free transplantation as well as novel approaches to expanding transplantation via the use of social media.





  1. Nicoline Smits

    When my youngest got his driver’s license, the MVA official in Annapolis who processed the paperwork went into a rant about how it’s terrible to sign up as an organ donor – which you can do when you get or renew your driver’s license in Md. – because doctors won’t do their best to save your life and they’ll just let you die etc. etc. Seems to me there’s some PR work the medical community might want to do there!
    My son did sign up as an organ donor, btw. In fact, both my sons are organ donors, as are my husband and I.

  2. That is a very interesting comment, Nicoline. Which MVA gave him the hard time about being a donor?


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