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Take Two… Organ Donation and Hollywood Storylines

Let’s talk organ donation and… Hollywood. You’ve likely seen a medical drama series or movie with an organ donation and transplantation storyline. DLH logoBut, more often than not, they don’t get it right.

To better understand the impact these shows and movies have on their viewers, we sat down with Tenaya Wallace, founder of Donate Life Hollywood. Tenaya offers up insight into what shows got it right, what ones got it wrong and more importantly, what we can do to help spread the facts about donation in Hollywood.

What is Donate Life Hollywood?

Donate Life Hollywood (DLH) serves as a liaison between the entertainment industry and the Donate Life community. DLH’s mission is to harness the power of storytelling to save and heal lives.

Tenaya Wallace

Tenaya Wallace, Donate Life Hollywood

DLH is founded by Tenaya Wallace and is a project of the OneLegacy Foundation. DLH was first launched in 2008 in response to research published by Dr. Susan Morgan of Purdue University. We refer to this research throughout the article.

Tenaya’s ultimate goal with DLH is to save and heal more lives. “I know that powerful, positive and authentic storylines coupled with a clear call to action can inspire people,” says Tenaya.

Why is Organ Donation and Hollywood Important to Talk About?

“When you watch a donation storyline the question is not whether it’s accurate but whether it is authentic and positive,” says Tenaya. “Problematic storylines perpetuate fears and myths. That is when we go into action.”

Dr. Morgan’s research shows that when storylines in Hollywood perpetuate fears and myths surrounding the donation and transplantation process, it stops people from making the decision to sign up to be an organ, eye and tissue donor after death.

Studies also show that people believe what they see about organ donation because so few people have a personal experience with donation or transplantation. Because of this, Tenaya says writers should be careful when incorporating these storylines into their work.

What Shows Got it Wrong?

“A big reason Hollywood gets it wrong is simply that they don’t know it’s wrong, and they don’t know that their storylines could cost real lives,” says Tenaya.

  • The Resident: last season an “organ broker” was woven into their storyline in regards to living kidney donation. “This black market for organs myth is making a comeback in Hollywood,” says Tenaya.
    • Why it’s wrong: human organ trafficking in the United States is illegal. Financial incentives for organs and tissue are against the law and are in direct conflict with both the altruistic nature of organ and tissue donation and federal laws. Per federal law, organizations and individuals are prohibited from providing money, goods or any valuable consideration in exchange for organ or tissue donation.
  • Law & Order: two seasons ago this show had a storyline where a doctor was forging consent for her pediatric patients. “This kind of story creates real fear and distrust, and it’s that fear that stops people from registering,” says Tenaya.
    • Why it’s wrong: Tenaya says that the writers of this show were actually trying to promote an “opt-out,” or presumed consent system instead of an “opt-in” system. The US operates under a system of “expressed volunteerism” or “opt-in,” with consent for donation received from donors and their families. Read more about the difference between opt-in and opt-out is, here.

Any Shows Get it Right?

“Hollywood does want to help,” says Tenaya. She’s even had success alerting shows, like Samantha Who?, that they got the facts wrong, thus prompting the writers to apologize and change storylines as to not perpetuate fears and myths surrounding donation.

  • Three Rivers on CBS: Tenaya sat down with the head writer for this series, Carol Barbee, and DLH consulted on every episode of the show. Tenaya says that this partnership with Three Rivers led to a national six percent increase in the public’s willingness to sign up to be organ, eye and tissue donors.

DLH Twitter

How Can YOU Help?

To really get Hollywood’s attention and respect, we must show the power and value of the Donate Life community. Here’s how:

  • Twitter: if you watch a show with a negative storyline, tweet at them. You can also check out DLH’s Twitter (@DL_Hollywood) to see if Tenaya has tweeted about a storyline.
  • Reach Out to DLH: If you see a negative storyline and want to alert Tenaya, please reach out to her on Twitter (above) or by email.
  • App: In the works as a future program, DLH plans to develop an app that everyone can simply download to their phones. The app will send users notifications of episodes with negative storylines and have curated responses that you can simply send to a show by the touch of a button. Stay tuned for more information on this app!

At the end of the day, “we know our stories best and Donate Life Hollywood wants to help those stories get told,” says Tenaya.

As always, you can show your support for organ, eye and tissue donation best by saying Yes at the driver license office when you obtain or renew your license or state ID. You can also sign up to be organ, eye and tissue donors anytime online at DonateLifeColorado.org or DonateLifeWyoming.org.

Thank you, Tenaya Wallace (Donate Life Hollywood) for your insight and help with this article!