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Depiction of organ donation on television negatively affects viewers’ decisions to become donors

12 August 2017


BACKGROUND: There is a substantial gap in the number of people reporting they believe organ donation is a good thing and the number of people willing to identify themselves as potential donors by checking the box when applying for a driver’s license, signing a donor card, or joining a state registry. Despite overwhelming support for the idea of organ donation there are still myths and misinformation surrounding organ donation that prevent people from becoming “official” donors. One common source of inaccurate information is primetime television. American medical and crime dramas perpetuate the myths and capitalize on the fears of viewers, especially those who have not already designated themselves as organ donors, which ultimately can dissuade them from registering as donors.

METHODS: A comprehensive search of the literature was performed using Web of Science, CINAHL, MEDLINE-PubMed, and Psychinfo using the keywords; organ donation, television, and attitudes. The final articles were assessed using GRADE.

RESULTS: Two studies were included in this review having met inclusion criteria. One study surveyed 580 college students before and after viewing either a medical or crime drama with an organ donation storyline to determine how entertainment television influences the decision of whether or not to become an organ donor. The second study measured the same outcome but asked subjects to recall shows they had viewed over the past year that had organ donation storylines. Both studies found that viewers who were opposed to becoming organ donors and those who were undecided were likely to take the information presented on television as the truth and thus less likely to register as organ donors.

CONCLUSION: American primetime medical and crime dramas are often a major source of information for viewers regarding organ donation. Unfortunately, the information viewers are receiving is not only inaccurate but often outright deceptive, playing on the worst fears many people have about the organ donation process. This misinformation has led to a loss of potential organ donors. Would honest and accurate information in television programs lead to more viewers registering to donate their organs?

KEYWORDS: Organ donation, television, attitudes.


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