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Television has the power to shape public attitudes toward a host of topics, and it's no exaggeration to worry that a new Netflix series could cost lives through its inaccurate portrayal of organ donation.

This is why the national organ and tissue donation community is asking Netflix to tell a true story alongside its fictional narrative. And it's why it's important for Arkansas viewers to be able to differentiate compelling facts from entertaining fiction.

Chambers centers on a young heart-attack survivor who becomes consumed by the mystery surrounding the heart that saved her life. Haunted by eerie visions and sinister impulses after a transplant, the teenager tries to unmask the truth behind her donor's mysterious and sudden death. The closer she gets to uncovering the truth, the more she starts taking on the characteristics of the deceased.

Dr. Susan Morgan is a University of Miami researcher who examined the content of entertainment television and the impact of organ-donation storylines on viewers' behaviors and attitudes. She draws a stark picture of the series: "Make no mistake, this show will cost some people their lives."

Morgan's research concludes that fear-based storylines about organ and tissue donation stop people from registering their decision to be a donor, which can deprive potential recipients of a second chance at life.

Already, 22 people die every day because the organ they need is not donated in time. Research underscores that for many there's no difference between Hollywood storylines and reality. For them, fears about organ donation mirror exactly what's being shown on entertainment television, and that is deadly to the 114,000 men, women and children currently in need of a lifesaving transplant.

Around the launch of 13 Reasons Why in March 2017, suicide-prevention experts raised deep and ultimately validated concerns that the show would increase teen suicide rates. Research showed a link between the way suicide is portrayed in the media and how it impacts young people who are vulnerable and at risk of suicide.

The donation community is similarly concerned about the impact of Chambers on donation rates. As a result, the national organ donation and transplant community is calling on Netflix to take actions similar to those implemented around the second season of 13 Reasons Why, such as adding an advisory video telling viewers about organ donation and pointing viewers to resources on their website. Netflix is also being encouraged to air short videos of actors stating that they are registered as organ donors and hosting an after-show style discussion with actors, experts and educators breaking down myths and sharing truths about donation.

If you'd like to encourage Netflix in similar fashion, we have suggested communications, facts and contact information for reference.

Ninety-five percent of the public says they support organ donation, yet only 58 percent are registered as donors (64 percent in Arkansas). It underscores the point that attitude, not just knowledge, is the main driver of behavior regarding this cause.

There is nothing fearful, spooky or difficult about registration and donation. While Chambers may make compelling TV, it is entirely fictional and does not accurately portray the transformational impact of donation on thousands of lives.

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Alan Cochran is executive director and president of ARORA, the nonprofit agency in Arkansas that recovers and transports donated organs and tissues for life-restoring transplantation. He can be reached at acochran@arora.org.

Editorial on 05/13/2019

Print Headline: May cost lives

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