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One surefire way to enlist organ donors (that doesn’t involve Facebook)

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Facebook is turning heads Tuesday morning with news that it will encourage users to post their organ donor status. The hope is that, by making this information public, more users will feel pressured to become donors.

Will it work? That’s hard to tell: There’s not much in the way of academic research on how social networking can influence organ donation decisions. But if we wanted to significantly increase the number of American organ donors, the health economics literature does suggest one nearly-surefire strategy: Presumed consent.

Under presumed consent legislation, a deceased individual is classified as a possible donor unless he or she explicitly objects prior to death. Unlike the United States, where individuals have to opt into organ donation, in most of continental Europe, citizens must opt out.

Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine

The impact of a pretty small policy tweak is striking: Organ donation rates are 25 to 30 percent higher in presumed consent countries, according to a 2005 paper in the Journal of Health Economics. When Belgium instituted a presumed consent law in 1985, the number of organ donors nearly doubled within two years. A separate review study, published in the British Medical Journal last year, found similar effects for five countries that passed presumed consent laws in recent decades.

There is, however, a pretty big public opinion challenge that could stand in the way of implementing a presumed consent law in the United States: Surveys suggest that Americans don’t like the idea. One study, albeit from 1985, found just 7 percent of Americans support the idea of presumed consent in organ donation.

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