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Someday, perhaps quite soon, a piece of Trina Doyle’s liver will begin living inside someone else’s body.
A single mother of two living in Tignish, she’s due to head to Toronto General Hospital soon so she can donate a piece of her liver - to a stranger.
It’s not a simple process.
But it could be, says Daniel Ariely. He’s an expert in how we make up our minds about everything from what we eat for breakfast in the morning to, well, going under the knife to help ease the always chronic lack of organs needed for donation.
She began pondering the idea of helping others as a teen when someone in her community needed a bone marrow transplant.
That didn’t work out. She wasn’t a match.
See, this isn’t easy.
She became a blood donor, then signed up to give up some of her stem cells, microscopic bits of us that have the nearly magical ability to become anything from muscle to brain cells. They can also help repair damage, making them a hot item in medicine today.
Organ donation is much more complicated. There are concerns about the donor’s physical health, mental health, even financial health. Getting the nod can take time.
But the liver is a special case when it comes to donation. Cut out a piece and put it into someone else and it grows a whole new liver. Meanwhile, the donor’s liver grows right back.
Noticing a Facebook posting about organ donation was the final nudge Trina needed to take the plunge. Around Christmas, 2018, she signed up for the organ donation registry.
And "nudge" brings us to Ariely.
He’s a professor of psychology and something called behavioural economics at Duke University in the U.S.
He believes he knows how you make up your mind better than you do. Far better.
Consider organ donation, he says. Your chances of finding a donor in Europe depend on where you live.
If you call Denmark home. Just 4.25 per cent of drivers there have signed an organ consent form. But if you’re in France, the number leaps to 99.91 per cent. Germany? Just 12 per cent.
But Hungary? How does 99.997 sound?
Now, Europe is not a big place. Hop in a car in Paris and you can arrive in Bonn, Germany about 500 kilometres and six hours later.
So what gives, when it comes to signing an organ donor card? Why the huge differences?
We’re lazy, Ariely says. A simple nudge can influence us.
Countries with the best numbers use an opt-out plan, he says. They assume you want to be a donor - unless you fill out a form saying otherwise. Most people can’t be bothered.
Most of Canada assumes you don’t want to be donor. You must fill out a form to say you want to help. Most people can’t be bothered.
Nova Scotia is an exception. It has passed a law, the first in North America, that assumes you want to donate. It is expected to take effect this year.
Here, Charlottetown-West Royalty MLA Gord McNeilly asked the province last fall to consider doing the same thing. The government is considering the idea.
It would mean those in need would have to depend less on people like Doyle, remarkable as her kindness is, and more on the rest of us.
Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.