The list for a donor organ in Belgium is 1,248 patients long. Many will wait more than three years to receive a kidney. Roel Marien, 39 and the father of two young girls, says he does not have the time to sit and wait. So he took matters into his own hands and began to search for a donor among his Facebook friends.
His move sparked a discussion among doctors and patients in Europe about the current system, which is based on strict laws and anonymity. Is it fair if people search for organ donors online to avoid endless waiting lists? Might social media give certain patients an advantage, if they can present their stories well online?
On January 12, Marien, a car salesman, posted a message on Facebook, between the photos of polished old Porsches and his daughters playing outdoors. “Urgent,” Marien wrote. “Looking for a kidney from a living donor.” He was looking for someone with blood type A-negative, between 18 and 45 years old.
In less than a month's time, he found eight people who agreed to donate one of their two kidneys if they were a good match for Marien. It would have been the first organ transplantation between Facebook friends in Belgium.
In March, however, Marien's doctors at the University Medical Center in Leuven refused to do the transplant, calling it unfair, according to the Belgian newspaper De Standard. “Someone who comes across as attractive or who is very active on social media has more chances to find a donor,” the clinic's medical director, Johan van Eldere, told the Dutch newspaper Trouw. However, being mediagenic should not play a role and patients with a touching story should not get preferential treatment, they say.