We can save thousands of lives every year by applying the Golden Rule to the world of organ donation. It’s time each of us starts treating other people the way we want ourselves to be treated.

Over 6,000 people will die in America this year due to a shortage of human organs for transplant operations. There are several reasons for this shortage. One is that a whole lot of people don’t sign organ donor cards.

In the United States, less than 20 percent of adults are registered organ donors. The rules for allocating organs to patients don’t recognize organ donation. So when an organ becomes available, there is more than an 80 percent chance that it will go to someone who is not an organ donor. Organ donors get less than 20 percent of the organs. People who don’t donate their organs get treated better than people who do.

This is not fair. And this is a big part of the reason why there is such a large shortage of organs. Why bother to donate if you can get an organ without donating? Why bother to donate if your organs will probably go to someone who won’t donate their organs to you?

Of course, we cannot and should not force anyone to donate their organs. But we shouldn’t reward that decision, and that’s exactly what we’re doing every day. People who don’t donate get unfair access to the organs of people who do.

Instead of rewarding the decision not to be an organ donor, we should reward the decision to be one. The best way to do that is by making sure that organ donors get their fair share of organs when they need them.

This is now possible due to a new organization called LifeSharers. LifeSharers is a voluntary non-profit network of organ donors. The unique thing about LifeSharers is that members give fellow members “first dibs” on their organs. LifeSharers members direct that their organs be offered first to other members. Non-members can have a member’s organs if no member who is a suitable match for them wants them.

Because LifeSharers members use the Golden Rule in determining who gets their organs, LifeSharers members get equal access to the organs of fellow members. This helps correct an inequity in how organs are shared.

LifeSharers offers another benefit that is even more important. Applying the Golden Rule creates an incentive for non-donors to become donors and join LifeSharers. This incentive is the key to reducing the organ shortage and saving lives.

People who join LifeSharers get equal access to the pool of members’ organs. People who don’t join cut themselves off from equal access to this pool. As the size of this pool grows, so does the incentive to join LifeSharers. When LifeSharers has a million members, for example, anyone who joins will get equal access to a pool with two million kidneys, one million livers, one million hearts, two million lungs, two million corneas, and more. Anyone who doesn’t join will give up equal access to these potentially life-saving organs. It’s easy to see that an incentive as powerful as this can put a big dent in the organ shortage.

Nothing in federal or state law prohibits this type of incentive. On the contrary, the right of individuals to direct the donation of their organs is recognized and respected by law and by the medical establishment.

Membership in LifeSharers is free. Anyone can join at http://www.lifesharers.com. If you believe in the Golden Rule, then you should join LifeSharers. If you want to help save lives, then you should join LifeSharers. If you’re already an organ donor and you want to be treated fairly, then you should join LifeSharers. Who knows, the next life you save may be your own.

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(David J. Undis is executive director of LifeSharers in Nashville, Tennessee. Another incentive-based proposal for encouraging organ donations advanced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy is accessible at www.mackinac.org/2482.)