What I can say is that it is clear that social media are being used by people to look for kidney donors, and the transplant medical community needs to be prepared for this and some of the special issues its use may create. Moreover, people of all stripes and ages are using social media in this manner.
Based on the small sample, the study found that patients successful in soliciting people to be tested for donation were more likely to be white and received more than 50 messages posted by people visiting their page. Might the use of social media impact communities that generally have less access to organ donors?
We know that there is decreased access to organ transplantation in the African-American community, stemming from many issues including the overall health of different communities, natural distrust of the medical community engendered by previous past experiences (such as the Tuskegee syphilis study), and different views on organ donation in general. The majority of pages identified in my study were created by individuals for [other] individuals who are not ethnic minorities. But, theoretically, social media could have a positive impact on organ donation in minority communities as more and more people start to use social media.
Facebook's recent organ donor initiative began the day after Loyola researchers had concluded their study. What impact might Facebook's involvement have on organ donation?
This study was not designed to encourage people to solicit living kidney donors, but to merely examine what is going on the world of social media. I was actually surprised how few people even mentioned that people should, at the very least, sign up for their state's organ donor registries. So when Facebook announced their initiative I was very pleased, as I think we should be concentrating on maximizing the deceased donor pool first. Although the risks of donating a kidney are low, they are present, and I think anybody considering this option needs to be well informed of the risks.
Your research turned up Facebook pages created for the purpose of selling organs, which is generally illegal. Does the use of social media to solicit organ donations raise any new ethical concerns?
I think the ethical concerns are important; the use of social media in living kidney donation solicitation will magnify the issues that already face the transplant community. For instance, to accept an anonymous donor, it is necessary to make sure there are no ulterior motives (that is, financial or otherwise) that exist. The vast majority of the Facebook pages examined did not make mention of risks of donation or potential financial costs, such as the possibility of the donor having to take two weeks off of work as they recover from the surgery. While potential donors will receive this information eventually when they go to the transplant center, I think that mention of these risks and costs is well deserved, especially when one is asking someone for such a serious gift.
Anyone using Facebook to publicly solicit for kidneys may find themselves the target of individuals wanting to sell their kidneys, usually from Third World countries. I think that if someone wanted to use Facebook safely to inform their loved ones that they were in need of a kidney transplantation, they should be very careful about sharing their information, and know exactly who they want to share their information with. I would not encourage someone to make this type of request public, as it may attract people who want to donate kidneys solely for financial benefit. Rather, using social media may be an effective way to inform friends and family of the need for a kidney, and then a much more formal discussion can be initiated.