Apple is gearing up to make it easier for iPhone users to become organ donors, linking its Health app to the National Donate Life Registry when iOS 10 debuts this fall, the company announced Tuesday.
"Apple's mission has always been to create products that transform people's lives. With the updated Health app, we're providing education and awareness about organ donation and making it easier than ever to register. It's a simple process that takes just a few seconds and could help save up to eight lives," Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer, said in a statement.
Donate Life America noted that on average one person dies every hour in the US while waiting to receive an organ transplant. Currently there are more than 120,000 on the waiting list for an organ, with a new individual being added every 10 minutes.
Apple's late founder Steve Jobs had been on that wait list for a liver, and it was an "excruciating" process, Apple CEO Tim Cook told the Associated Press, explaining Apple's interest in offering iPhone users direct access to the donor registry sign up.
"Watching and seeing him every day, waiting and not knowing -- it stuck with me and left an impression that I'll never forget," Cook told the AP.
Cook offered a part of his own liver to his friend and former boss, but Jobs refused and ultimately relied on the state of Tennessee to get his liver transplant in 2009, because the wait would have been long in California, according to the AP report. Jobs died in 2011 from complications stemming from pancreatic cancer.
Apple is following in the footsteps of Facebook, which in 2012 launched a feature where members could show their status as registered donors. But after a spike of 6,000 people enrolling in 22 state donor registries on the day the Facebook initiative was announced, it quickly fell back to its normal daily rate of about 400 new donors per day across those registries. The Facebook effect fizzled out within a week for the top four state registries and within months for others.
Nonetheless, Alfred M. Sadler Jr., MD, said he holds out great hope for Apple's Health app efforts that link to the donor registry. Alfred, along with his brother attorney Blair L. Sadler, helped draft the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which was adopted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia between 1968 and 1971. The act set the regulatory framework that allows people in the US to state their intent to be an organ donor.
"The app for donations is a terrific idea," Alfred Sadler told InformationWeek. "The more people who think about organ donations is good, because it allows them to express their wishes in the registries."
He noted there are a number of donor registries that exist, such as Organize, and he hopes they all collaborate and communicate with one another to avoid confusion among the donors and the medical community.
Although Facebook's initial spike of interest died down quickly, he noted Apple may be able to avoid this situation, even though the publicity of its announcement would have likely quieted down by the time the iOS 10 Health app update is publicly available in the fall, by continuing to promote this feature of the app.
He added one feature of the donor button could include information and education about the need for donors to sign up, stressing the difference the user's contribution could make in the event of his or her death.
Each organ donor, according to Apple's announcement, could save as many as eight lives and heal many more through eye and tissue donations.
Although it is assumed that the younger an organ, the healthier it is, Sadler, who is 75 years old and uses an iPhone, notes that the age of the donor is lower on the list of criteria for a transplant than are the organ's functionality and its tissue match for the recipient.