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What's On Facebook's Mind? Organ Donation

Have you signed up to donate your organs if something happens to you? Are you willing to share that information online with your friends, family and acquaintances?

Facebook execs think you might. And they reckon shared stories about the decision to become an organ donor might spur others to do the same.

Starting today, the social media giant is letting you add your organ-donation status to your timeline. And, if you'd like to become an organ donor, Facebook will direct you to a registry.

Patients and transplant surgeons are eager for you to try it out.

Nearly 114,000 people in this country are waiting for organs, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. But there simply aren't enough organs to go around.

"We have the ability and the tools to fix this problem," Dr. Andrew Cameron, a transplant surgeon at Johns Hopkins, tells Shots. The problem, he says, is that too few people have given their consent to become organ donors.

At Hopkins there's a list of 300 patients waiting for donated livers. "We're only able to transplant two or three a month," he says. "It's devastating to face a family that's lost a loved one because they just didn't get their turn."

Why haven't more people already agreed to donate organs? "I think it's a very difficult personal topic," Cameron says, and isn't well suited to a quick decision at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The choice makes people think about what will happen to them after they die, he says.

Facebook might offer a less threatening way to do that. "In the comfort of your own home, in front of your computer and with the consensus of your friends or family members, you can use this communication tool .... to discuss something that can be very personal and very important," he says.

Cameron says the idea got cooking at a Harvard reunion. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, and Cameron got to know each other as freshmen. They went their separate ways, but before their 20th reunion Cameron wrote in a class note about the crisis in transplant surgery — patients dying for lack of organs.

He says Sandberg told him, "I remember what you wrote. We can fix this problem." Now it's up and running. "When I heard her vision on this, I knew it would work."

Here are the details.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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