We "Like" Organ Donor Status on Facebook

This post has been prepared by Christina Strong, Esq.

organ donation like.pngThe addition of “organ donor status”  to Facebook is a tremendous boon for the communication of what is fast becoming a social norm, altruistic donation of one’s body, to take place after death.  Unlike other decisions surrounding one’s body, the decision to donate organs is not a health care decision.  It is instead, a charitable gift, to be given post-mortem, the legal equivalent to a gift made through a will.  While privacy advocates and others in the industry are rightfully concerned about inadequate protection for healthcare decisions provided on the web in general and Facebook in particular, there is no privacy law or issue impacted by listing of donor status of Facebook.  First of all, it is extremely unlikely that designation of donor status on Facebook will be considered a document of gift under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Acts of most states. Thus, to state that one is an organ donor on one’s Facebook Timeline is tantamount to saying:

When I die, and if I die in a time frame and manner which allows for the recovery of something from my body, I would like to give something. 

It is an expression of general support for a concept, followed by a call to action “Register with your State Donate Life Registry”, and a link to do so.  The registration itself takes place on a secure website, which performs legally adequate verification of identity, and information, and in many cases, specific choices as to the scope of the gift.  Facebook does not display actual registration or donor information.  Facebook displays the expression of generous intent.

A recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek warns consumers to be hyper-aware about managing their own privacy for this information, and suggests that it can be used against them. While it is not entirely clear if the authors of the article are actually concerned about the privacy of a person's "donor status" or have simply confused this expression with the privacy concerns that arise when true medical information is shared, in any case it is important to understand that the Organ Donor "Status" referred to on Facebook is reflecting merely the willingness to give a post-mortem gift.  This general willingness, or indeed, even the fact of donor registration does not impact any other aspect of life or health care, any more than a decision to be cremated rather than buried might.  One is not treated differently in an insurance policy, an auto accident or at the hospital based on one’s decision, registered or not.  One is not declared dead on any different criteria, simply because one has indicated a preference about donation.  It is a decision about body disposition, and therefore, not considered health information of any kind, under any law, state or federal.  Donor status is a decision people like to share, like “I root for the Giants” or “I support Planned Parenthood”.  It loses any conceivable protection at the point where one voluntarily shares it with the public one chooses to share with. 

If the article intends to point out that once you put your donor status on Facebook others can see it and judge it according to their own lights, then the authors are absolutely correct.  That is the point.

Christina Strong is an attorney in private practice who concentrates in health law, including anatomical gift law, informed consent, healthcare decision-making and healthcare privacy.  She is a trustee of Donate Life America, and a registered organ and tissue donor in the State of New Jersey.  This means that when she dies, if she dies in a manner and a time frame compatible with donation, her organs can save as many as seven lives, and her tissues may be recovered and used to enhance the lives of hundreds.  This is true of her, and 10 million others who have registered their wish to be an organ donor.  With the help of Facebook we hope that 10 million more donors will sign up in 2012.

According to FoxNews.com, the FB Donor Status button and link has spurred thousands of new registrations in just the last few days. To learn more how you can register to become an organ donor through Facebook's links to state registries, visit DonateLife's FB page.