Increasing Organ Donation With a Check Box

Over 22 people die everyday in the United States as they wait for an organ transplant. This area of medicine is a particularly tricky version of supply and demand. But what if a simple check box was all it took to help increase the supply to the thousands on waiting lists?

Enter Libertarian Paternalism. Initially coined by economist Richard Thaler and legal scholar Cass Sunstein, this is the idea that ones behavior can be affected without removing ones freedom of choice.

“it tries to influence choices in a way that will make choosers better off, as judged by themselves”

Many countries have used this method to increase organ donation with a simple check box. They have moved to an “opt-out” method – meaning citizens must choose to NOT donate. This is  behavioral economics in practice. Law makers can influence behavior, but citizens still have the freedom to chose.

So what difference does this slight wording make? In Austria who employs an “opt-out” method, has over a 97% rate of citizens sighed up for organ donation. Neighboring Germany? Only 12%. One can assume that cultural attitudes and customers between these countries have similar feelings on organ donation. The only difference? Opt-out vs. opt-in policies.

Using the theory of Libertarian Paternalism to set “defaults” can be a powerful tool and should be used with respect. We must remember that as problem solvers we hold the ability to not only work through complex issues, but also “nudge” people in one direction or another.