By Grace Kim

Approximately 21 people die a day from waiting for organs, and there is an increasing need for organ donors—a higher demand for donations than there is available.

Despite ways to try and increase the number of organ donors, attempts are backfiring. In an interview on NPR, the most common approach to appeal to organ donors is at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). When one applies for a license, there is an option to become an organ donor. In the past, people could leave the option blank. However, there has been a recent change to the application, and now an answer is required to the question of becoming an organ donor: yes or no. This is considered an active choice approach. At the time, researchers suggested that an active choice approach would improve the number of organ donors. The idea was that when people were applying for a license, the reason why they were leaving the organ donor option blank was because they had other things on their minds. The solution was to give people an option in hopes that more people would choose to become organ donors because the thought was now on their minds.

Judd Kessler at the Wharton School and Alvin Roth at Stanford analyzed the statistics in California and compared the data to the statistics in 25 other states. While the idea may have had the right intentions, they have found that when people are presented with the choice of becoming an organ donor on the spot, more people are actually choosing no.

Kessler and Roth further expanded their research and ran an experiment linked to the Massachusetts Organ Donor Registry. Participants were given the choice to join or leave the donation registry. They found that when participants were forced into making a choice, the results were the same: fewer people were saying yes. However, those participants who declined were then asked again, and researchers found that the act of asking again prompted the participants to rethink their answers…and say yes the second time. Researchers believe that by asking again, people are forced into evaluating their answers and giving the question more thought and that their minds are no longer focused on finishing their license application. Other solutions to promote organ donation are through self-interest motivations, feelings of positivity, and to not ask to become an organ donor on a license application at the DMV.

Alarmingly, the state of New York is ranked last in terms of organ donors with only 24% of the New York population signed up as organ donors. Perhaps the solution is to ask people a second time.

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