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News & Features | May 4th, 2012

Facebook “Likes” Your Organs: The Legal and Privacy Implications

Jillian Ryan

Earlier this week, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and Founder of Facebook, announced on Good Morning America, the site was introducing what he called a “life saving” feature. As part of the Timeline, users can now add their organ donor status. Although a groundbreaking move that could very well save many lives, the privacy and legal community have much to say about this latest Facebook feature.

Well first, Facebook sets the playing field to explain to its users why sharing your organ donor status is so important. It is simple math, according to a recent post on the social network’s blog: “Today, more than 114,000 people in the United States, and millions more around the globe, are waiting for the heart, kidney or liver transplant that will save their lives. Many of those people – an average of 18 people per day – will die waiting, because there simply aren’t enough organ donors to meet the need.” The network believes that the power of social media influence and viral sharing can stop this trend: “by simply telling people that you're an organ donor, the power of sharing and connection can play an important role.”

No matter what side of the privacy fence you fall on, there is some truth to this logic. Matt Brian, of The New Web writes, “The interesting thing about Facebook’s new feature is that it can  go viral, thereby putting peer pressure on friends and family and entice them to become an organ donor themselves. With Facebook offering a link to a sign-up page, it is able to drive registration directly from users’ Timelines and help others share their status.”

Announcing to the Facebook community that you are an organ donor is quite simple. A user just needs to navigate to the Health & Wellness section of the Timeline and select Organ Donor. At this point, Facebook prompts with a link to officially register through the local Department of Motor Vehicles that there is a legal record of consent for the donation to occur. Users should take this step.

However, if they do not, there could be, according to the NY Times, serious legal ramifications. Even if a person isn’t an official Organ Donor, “a disclosure on Facebook could provide the evidence of consent that family members need when deciding whether to donate the organs of a loved one.”

Yet, it must be noted that although Facebook might make someone’s wishes apparent, it doesn’t make the donor announcement legally binding, according to the Washington Post. Also, as the Detroit Free Press points out, “Medical information on Facebook isn't protected by U.S. laws requiring doctors, educators and insurers to keep such personal data confidential.” All users of the social network must be highly aware of this as they navigate and handle their privacy online.

How do you feel about Facebook’s move into the realm of organ donation. Do you think it could potentially save lives? Or do you think it could lead to larger privacy and legal issues later down the road? Share your opinions below!

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