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The Facebook Effect on Organ Donations; Trafficking in Donor Kidneys

Posted Jun 06 2012 12:00am

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg seems to be constantly in the news, partly due to the recent problematic IPO of the company. One of the stated goals for his wildly successful social media web site is to change society for the good and this goal extends to organ donation (see: Facebook encouraging organ donations ). Here is an excerpt from a CNN article about this topic:

On average, 18 people in the United States die each day waiting for an organ transplant. Billionaire Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg wants to change that. He announced...that the social networking site wants to "help solve the crisis" by allowing users to volunteer as potential organ donors in the United States and the United Kingdom....He described widespread acceptance of organ donation as "a shift in society that will probably take a while to fully take hold" until more Facebook users start sharing their experiences.

Here's an excerpt from another article on the role of Facebook in organ donation (see: What Impact Will Facebook Have on Organ Donations? ):

Last October a team of researchers at Loyola University Medical Center began tracking how Facebook was being used as a tool for connecting potential donors with those in need of an organ. The researchers focused on kidney solicitations in particular and studied 91 Facebook pages seeking kidney donations for patients ranging in age from two to 69. Of the Facebook pages studied, 12 percent reported receiving a kidney transplant and 30 percent reported that potential donors had stepped forward to be tested to determine whether they were compatible....One page reported that more than 600 people had been tested as potential donors for a young child. There was a broad range in terms of how much personal information people disclosed. Some Facebook pages simply asked people to donate, without providing any other information. Other pages provided great detail about patients who needed kidneys, including explicit medical histories and family photos as well as emotional accounts of hospital stays, emergency room visits, financial problems and the difficulties of living on dialysis, according to the researchers....The research findings also raised ethical concerns: 3 percent of the pages received offers to sell kidneys, mostly from people in Third World countries. Would-be donors typically asked for $30,000 to $40,000, even though selling organs is illegal in most countries. In addition, only 5 percent of pages mentioned the risks of kidney donation....and only 11 percent mentioned associated costs.

With close to a billion subscribers (see:  Number of Facebook users could reach 1 billion by 2012 ), Facebook will reflect global markets in everything. It should thus come as no surprise that commercial traffic in organs on Facebook has surfaced. I had a recent conversation with an individual who lives outside of the U.S. A relative of hers traveled to the Philippines for a kidney transplant. She was well aware that the organ donor was being paid for the service. I had the sense during the conversation that the entire process was institutionalized and relatively routine. There is a long history of "regulated compensation" for kidney donors in the Philippines (see:  Regulated compensation for kidney donors in the Philippines ). Sporadic attempts have been made to regulate it over the years.

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