Should EA Groups Run Organ Donor Registration Drives?

[Epistemic sta­tus: prima fa­cie; ex­plo­ra­tory]

Re­lated con­tent: Kid­ney dona­tion is a rea­son­able choice for effec­tive al­tru­ists and more should con­sider it; WaitList Zero Grant

Should EA groups run or­gan donor reg­is­tra­tion drives?

Prima Fa­cie Case

Here are some rea­sons why I think this idea is worth try­ing (for Amer­i­can groups speci­fi­cally):

1. There seems to be a sig­nifi­cant gap be­tween peo­ple’s stated sup­port for or­gan dona­tion and ac­tual reg­is­tra­tion (“95% of U.S. adults sup­port or­gan dona­tion but only 58% are ac­tu­ally signed up as donors.” It’s im­me­di­ately un­clear to me what “sup­port” means in this con­text, though.). Regis­ter­ing is also ex­tremely low-cost to donors; likely much less costly than donat­ing money to effec­tive char­i­ties. This sug­gests tractabil­ity.

2. Trans­plan­ta­tion is con­strained by the num­ber of reg­istered donors.

3. Dona­tions can sig­nifi­cantly im­prove the longevity of re­cip­i­ents.

4. There is some ev­i­dence that dona­tion ini­ti­a­tives are cost-effec­tive. (“In con­clu­sion, ini­ti­a­tives to in­crease or­gan dona­tion such as DA are likely to be cost‐effec­tive un­der a va­ri­ety of clini­cal sce­nar­ios. Ag­gres­sively im­ple­ment­ing such pro­grams could be an im­por­tant step to gen­er­at­ing long‐term sav­ings and alle­vi­at­ing the wor­ld­wide or­gan short­age.”). How­ever, I have not com­pared this to other ac­tivi­ties (the clos­est com­par­i­son point be­ing fundrais­ing for GiveWell char­i­ties).

5. Vol­un­tary, un­com­pen­sated post-mortem or­gan dona­tion is ex­tremely pop­u­lar (see 1. above) and un­con­tro­ver­sial; per­haps less con­tro­ver­sial even than giv­ing to the global poor.

6. For sig­nal­ing and cred­i­bil­ity rea­sons, I think it’s gen­er­ally good for EA groups to run ac­tivi­ties that have very con­crete, pub­lic, mea­surable im­pacts. This scores well on all of those (e.g., # of donors reg­istered).

7. I in­tu­itively ex­pect similar ac­tivi­ties (namely, fundrais­ing for GiveWell char­i­ties) to have rapidly diminish­ing re­turns and to also be largely non-ri­valrous with or­gan donor reg­is­tra­tion, such that switch­ing time from GiveWell fundrais­ing to or­gan donor reg­is­tra­tion might be sen­si­ble on the mar­gin, es­pe­cially if groups have un­der­uti­lized vol­un­teer ca­pac­ity.

8. In my ex­pe­rience at two large uni­ver­si­ties, I re­call only be­ing asked to reg­ister as an or­gan donor one time, in a highly un­usual set­ting, which anec­do­tally sug­gests that this is a ne­glected area.

9. I think it’s gen­er­ally good for EA groups to di­ver­sify their ac­tions to at­tract more peo­ple and for rea­sons similar to 6. above.

10. Or­gan dona­tion drives might emo­tion­ally res­onate with peo­ple whose fam­ily mem­bers have lost QALYs due to wait­ing for a dona­tion.

11. I sus­pect this would be easy to im­ple­ment, since there are ex­ist­ing toolk­its.

Some Ar­gu­ments Against This

1. To cred­ibly do this, this would re­quire EAs to learn about a new cause area, which would take time.

2. Flow-through effects on farmed an­i­mals from ex­tend­ing Amer­i­cans’ lifes­pans might be sig­nifi­cantly nega­tive on av­er­age, pos­si­bly offset­ting gains.

3. One should have a strong prior that ac­tions aimed at im­prov­ing Amer­i­cans’ lives are prob­a­bly not cost-effec­tive com­pared to ac­tions aimed at im­prov­ing the lives of the global poor.

4. It takes ap­prox­i­mately 333 donor reg­is­tra­tions to coun­ter­fac­tu­ally in­crease the num­ber of ac­tual or­gan donors by 1, which sug­gests low tractabil­ity. (“[O]nly 3 in 1,000 peo­ple die in a way that al­lows for or­gan dona­tion.”)

5. Whereas char­ity pledge drives can drive longer-term com­mit­ments and changes in mind­set, this doesn’t seem like it can. H/​T Ryan Carey.

6. This could pro­mote memes about live kid­ney dona­tion that are po­ten­tially harm­ful to EA pro­duc­tivity. H/​T Ryan Carey.

My Takeaway

Tak­ing all of the above into con­sid­er­a­tion, my qual­i­ta­tive weight­ing of the ev­i­dence is that this is a worth­while ac­tivity for EA groups to con­sider, es­pe­cially if they have spare vol­un­teer ca­pac­ity and are reach­ing diminish­ing re­turns on GiveWell fundrais­ing. How­ever, I would also ap­pre­ci­ate quan­ti­ta­tive anal­y­sis of this pro­posal. (I don’t have time to do this my­self right now, un­for­tu­nately.) I would ap­pre­ci­ate in­put from peo­ple who have run or­gan donor reg­is­tra­tion drives (or similar events like blood drives).

Even so, I think the ar­gu­ments above are strong enough to war­rant a lo­cal or school EA group ex­per­i­ment­ing with this right now.