Stanford students launch organ donation campaign

Students in a Stanford political science class created an awareness campaign on behalf of organ donations.

Molly Sean Stanford Tree using a laptop

Even the Tree, mascot of the Stanford Band, takes part in a student-produced video promoting organ donation.

A group of Stanford students want you to be an organ donor. Before you decide, listen to the facts, not the fears, they say.

Did you know that a single organ donor can save up to eight lives? And that there is no cost involved, no disfigurement to one's casket appearance, and that celebrities don't get preferential treatment in receiving donations?

Truth-telling is the raison d'être of the "Stanford Life Savers," students from a political science class who conducted polls, produced videos and created a webpage to educate people about organ donations.

The effort originated in the course Running Time: Running and Winning Elections. Taught by Israel Waismel-Manor, a visiting associate professor in the Department of Political Science and the Taube Center for Jewish Studies, the class included 27 students who mustered up their collective creativities as the "Stanford Life Savers."

The class covered how campaign consultants organize a campaign, draft a strategy, come up with a theme, target voters, raise money, write and produce ads and get voters to the ballot. "Since it would be wrong in an academic setting to help one party or candidate over another, we sought instead to run a campaign that focused on delivering a benefit to the common good," Waismel-Manor said.

Nicole DeMont, a master's student in communication, said she was surprised to discover how much misinformation exists. "It is important that people know the truth about organ donation so they'll be more willing to register," she said.

The more people learn, the more likely they are to support organ donations, she said. It helps that now one can register online to make organ donations – in the past in California, one could only do so at the Department of Motor Vehicles, DeMont added.

Research driven

The students polled 540 of their peers to gather data on organ donation perceptions. Some findings include:

  • Fear was the number one reason people do not register as donors. This was defined as, for example, concern about someone "messing" with one's body.
  • Religious issues were another reason people did not register – and yet, as Waismel-Manor points out, most religions do not forbid organ donations.
  • The desire to help others was the top reason cited by those who have registered to donate.
  • If the registration process were easier and more accessible, more people would sign up, respondents say.

After analyzing the polling results, students then produced more than a dozen video ads based on their findings. Some were informative, some were hip and some were humorous. One video focused on "Lindsay," a double lung transplant recipient whose life was saved by an organ donation and who came to class to share her experience.

"That emotional conversation was a jumpstart for everyone," said Waismel-Manor. "They saw a real human face behind it all."

For undergraduate Carolyn Gillette, producing the videos helped her learn a new skill. "I had never made a video before this class, so everything seen in the video I learned in Israel's class," she said.

Change of pace

Colomba Alcalde, a graduate student in Latin American studies, believes that the strongest argument in favor of becoming an organ donor is "the power you have to save lives, the chance you have to be a hero."

The stakes are high, said Alcalde, "when you know that 18 people die each day waiting for an organ and that each organ donor can save as many as eight lives."

Waismel-Manor points out that any California resident can sign up to be an organ donor and then be automatically registered in all other states. A pink dot is the symbol that appears on an organ donor's driver's license.

Organ donations typically involve the liver, lungs, heart, kidneys or retina. According to Waismel-Manor, age and race are not issues in making or receiving organ donations.

Waismel-Manor said his students learned how to run a campaign with real-world implications. "It was a nice change of pace for them, grading-wise," he said.

For Waismel-Manor, his personal motivation is rooted in the ancient Hebrew phrase Tikkun olam, which means "healing the world."

He said, "All human beings need to do something to fix humanity. You have to face the fact you are not immortal."

Israel Waismel-Manor, Political Science: (650) 293-1560,

Clifton B. Parker, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-0224,