A new BGU study contends that media articles focusing on organ
donation recipients, rather than articles focusing on the organ donor’s death,
will increase willingness to donate among the public.
The study was just
published in the prestigious PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) Journal this month.
There are frequently
articles in the press about cases involving organ-donations. Sometimes the
story is presented anonymously, without any identifying information. In many
cases, the identity of the donor is given. In some cases, the identity of the
recipient is known. The researchers examined how such presentations of organ
donation cases may affect people's willingness to sign organ donation
commitment cards, to donate the organs of a deceased relative and to support
the transition to an "opt-out" policy (where anyone who has not
explicitly refused is considered an organ donor after death).
This study was part of
Inbal Harel’s PhD dissertation and Meir Pinchas’s MA dissertation, under the
supervision of Prof. Tehila Kogut of the Department of Education at BGU in collaboration with Prof.
Paul Slovic of the Department of Psychology at the University of Oregon.
In four studies,
participants first read a scenario about a young man who was killed in a car
accident. The man had signed an organ-donation card in the past, and therefore
his parents decided to donate his organs. His kidney was implanted in the body
of another young man who urgently required it, thus saving his life.
randomly assigned to one of three conditions: In the identified donor
condition, the name and the picture of the man who was killed and who donated
the kidney were added. In the condition where the recipient was identified, the
same name and picture as the ones used for the organ donor were used to control
for the effect of the information itself. In the control condition no
identifying information was added.
The researchers found
that reading coverage of cases that included identifying information about the
receiver (saved by organ donations) increased participants’ willingness to
commit to organ donation themselves, to donate the organs of a deceased
relative, or to support a transition to an “opt-out” policy. Conversely,
identifying the deceased donor induced thoughts of death rather than about
saving lives, resulting in fewer participants willing to donate organs or to
support policies that facilitate organ donation.
Finally, the researchers
reviewed all articles on the topic in an 18-month period on four popular news
sites—two of them in Israel (Ynet and Maariv) and two in the United States (USA
Today and The Wall Street Journal). They found that most of the stories that
appeared included an identified donor rather than an identified receiver,
possibly reducing organ donations.
“Aside from its
theoretical contribution, our research suggests practical implications for
efforts to promote organ donation,” says Kogut. “For example, recruiting people
whose lives were saved by organ donation, identifying them by name, and telling
their stories may increase media coverage about such individuals and spur
members of the public to think about saving lives when reading about organ
donations and to view it more favorably.”
The study was supported by US National Science
Foundation Grant 1559546.