Rule of Three

Three simple things a writer should consider when telling an organ donation story.

Donate Life Hollywood Research

Research by Dr. Susan Morgan of Purdue University provides the most comprehensive study of organ donation storylines on television.

These studies examine the content of entertainment television and the impact of organ donation storylines on viewers' behaviors and attitudes. The research concludes that inaccurate storylines about organ and tissue donation stop people from signing up as a donor.

It is because of these dramatic findings, that the donation and transplant community initiated Donate Life Hollywood, a campaign to respond to donation storylines when they occur and to build partnerships with networks to help save lives by eliminating myths and misconceptions from television programming.

Donation storylines on television are filled with inaccuracies and myths.
  • In 2004 & 2005 donation appeared in 80 storylines including medical dramas, police shows, comedies and daytime soap operas on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and the WB (now the CW).
  • None of these appearances presented organ donation in an accurate or positive light.
The same inaccuracies are repeated in television storylines.
  • There is a black market for organs.
  • Organs can be stolen from people.
  • Doctors will not make the effort to save a potential donor's life.
  • People with money or access can move up on organ transplant lists.
Inaccuracies and myths stop people from signing up to be an organ/tissue donor.
  • Storylines about organ donation influence the public's beliefs about organ donation.
  • Myths and inaccuracies decrease a viewer's willingness to sign up as an organ donor.
What viewers think about organ donation is directly related to what they see in TV storylines.
  • The public does not see difference between Hollywood storylines and reality.
  • This is because unlike televised sex and violence, the public does not have information or other influences to counter what they have learned about organ donation on television.
  • The public's fears about organ donation mirror exactly what's being shown on entertainment television.
  • By seeing a myth played out on TV they feel they have “seen something with their own two eyes” and accept the information as likely to be true.
  • If the drama explicitly encouraged donation, viewers were more likely to decide to donate organs..
  • This also had an impact if characters modeled how to become a donor or if characters discussed the merits of donating.

These findings are from three major research studies:

Morgan, S. E., Harrison, T. R., Chewning, L. V., DiCorcia, M., & Davis, L. (2007). Entertainment (mis)education: The framing of organ donation in entertainment television. Health Communication, 22, 143-151.

Morgan, S. E., Movius, L., & Cody, M. (2008). The power of narratives: The effect of organ donation entertainment television storylines on the attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors of donors and non-donors. Journal of Communication, 58.

Morgan, S. E., Harrison, T.R., Afifi, W.A., Long, S.D., Stephenson, M.T., Reichert, T. (2005). Family discussions about organ donation: How the media is used to justify opinions and influence others about donation decisions. Clinical Transplantation, 19(5) 674-682.