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Share your status - and your lungs. Facebook tool promotes organ donation

A person carries blood samples from a dying patient to match organ transplants with recipients at Sunnybrook Critical Care Unit.

Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

You already share the most intimate details on Facebook – so why not the news that you're donating precious parts of yourself when you die?

The social media site will now allow users to publicly announce their intention to donate their organs, Reuters reports. Declaring yourself a donor will automatically link you to the appropriate registry in the event you need to make it official. (The option isn't yet available in Canada.)

It's social media turned social good – a brilliant PR move, noted Megan Garber, Atlantic magazine's media writer.

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But it's also a promising solution to a significant supply-and-demand problem that leaves people languishing (and dying) on registry lists, while too many others go to the grave holding on to hearts, livers and kidneys they no longer need.

Canadians are actually pretty generous when it comes to donating their organs – but even so there are more than 4,000 people waiting on the registry in this country, most for kidneys. Nearly 200 people on the list die every year. (Despite persistent calls for one, Canada does not have a national registry. Instead the issue is handled by the provinces; many, including Ontario and British Columbia have online registries.)

Governments and non-profits have struggled to solve the problem – with some doctors controversially making the case for a pay-the-donor system (for kidney donation, since you only need one), and other countries adopting an opt-out registry (you have to specifically say you don't want to donate to get off the list, rather than the other way around.)

The new Facebook approach does two important things. First, it sends the message to your social circle that you have deemed organ donation important – there is even a place to explain your decision with a personal story or video – ideally prompting others to do the same. And, the site facilitates your choice by sending you to the right government to register.

"Facebook provides nothing if not an easy way to act on intentions," Ms. Garner writes. "And, given that each donor can potentially supply an average of three organs to needy recipients, the effects of one person's action – and her friend's action, and her friend's – could be crucially amplified on its platform."

The value of the Facebook approach is that most people, when asked, say they want to be organ donors but never get around to filling out the paperwork. Given that one study found that on average, we spend nearly eight hours a month on Facebook – and many of us, let's face it, much longer than that – the case can be made that five minutes and a few clicks isn't too much to ask to save a life, or three.

Would you become a donor on Facebook? Would you feel the peer pressure to become a donor if a Facebook friend chose to be one?

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Erin Anderssen writes about mental health, social policy and family issues. More

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