iPhone Altruism for Potential Organ Donors

Organ donation is one of the most altruistic things a person can do. And yet, as Chapter 3 of SuperFreakonomics spells out, relying on altruism for organ donations has proved to be largely unsuccessful. There are a lot of reasons people give for not signing up as organ donors. Often, they just fail to opt in because of laziness or forgetfulness. So Richard Thaler had an idea. Why not build an iPhone app to help people enlist as organ donors? That app, developed gratis, is available now. As to the question of our inherent level of altruism, which app do you predict will get more downloads over all: the one that helps people make a life-saving donation — or the one that helps them pick the right urinal? [%comments]


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  1. William says:

    Ooooorrrrr you could just take the more practical solution and make everyone a donor by default with the ability to opt out, thus making “laziness or forgetfulness” work for the greater good.

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  2. Jason S says:

    One problem with that William…it would be illegal to do so. Granted the idea sounds good but that pesky Constitution gets in the way. :)
    We could always make organ donation tax deductible…sign up for organ donation and you get a tax credit. If nothing else the healthy rich would have more of a reason to give their organs while the poor and based off most studies less healthy would still donate based off altruism.

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  3. Charles says:

    People have to address the superstition of organ donation. If I make myself ‘available’ maybe I’m asking for trouble. A latent Christian ‘careful what you wish for’ type idea. Until this idea is rejected, people will continue to be superstitious and not sign up.

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  4. Jake says:

    I wonder how much of this stems from the seemingly routine potrayal of surgeons as organ-hungry vultures, ready and eager to pounce on newly- or not-quite-dead folks and divvy up their precious organs. Thanks to pop culture (I’ve no idea of the veracity of such ideas), I think a lot of people are more than a little worried that being an organ donor can make you more valuable to a doctor if you’re dead than if you’re barely alive.

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  5. Jonathon K. says:

    I would hope the app that helps with organ donation would get the most downloads…. every man should instinctively know how to chose the right urinal.

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  6. Steve says:

    Given that I am far more likely to need to find a urinal than find or be an organ donor, I think the answer is clear.

    Also, I’ve just finished reading the SuperFreak chapter on altruism. Here’s an anecdotal data point. My wife and I have no children, are over 60 and have been very financially successful. We’ve made a local college the residual beneficiary of our estate. The only “strings” attached to it is that it be anonymous and that it be used to pay tuition rather than infrastructure. Certain people in the school’s administration know who we are and who our attorney is, and they also clearly know our wishes. Nevertheless, we get one or two calls every year asking “Are you SURE you don’t want something named after you?” or “Wouldn’t you like to come to a dinner honoring donors?” I told them last year (in writing) that if I get one more call like that, we’ll pick a different school.

    In case you’re wondering about our motivations, both my wife and I come from humble backgrounds and were able to go to college and graduate school based on full academic scholarships. This is “pay it forward”.

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  7. Nik says:

    Based on the idea mentioned by Jake (#4 above), I revoked my organ donor status a few years ago. I don’t want to end up in a situation where a surgeon is looking at me thinking “my Mercedes S600 is already 7 months old, time for a new one, and I can bill the insurance company $300,000 if I can transplant this guy’s kidney to some other guy somewhere, so I think I he’s about to stop breathing; I’ll be able to cover my tracks easily.” I assume that’s how someone thinks who makes as much money as a successful surgeon, because the more money someone has, the greedier they get.

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  8. ObiJan says:

    Again, this is a problem that has already been solved elsewhere.

    European solution:
    Make being an organ donor “opt out” instead of “opt in”.

    Works pretty well. You can opt out easily, without needing to give a reason. And there is no need to pressure anybody, giving the abundance of donors.

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