Apple's Organ Donor Registry Was Inspired by Steve Jobs

The update will make it easier for people to register as an organ donor.

Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

A new addition to the iPhone Health app will make it easy for iPhone owners to register as an organ, eye, and tissue donor when iOS 10 comes out in the fall, Apple announced today. The update aims to lessen the gap between those who need an organ donation, and those who are registered to donate. For CEO Tim Cook, it’s also personal.

Cook saw the need for organ donors first-hand when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was on the waiting list for a liver transplant in 2009. Cook told the Associated Press that watching Jobs wait “stuck with me and left an impression that I’ll never forget.”

Doctors told Jobs he likely wouldn’t live long enough to receive a donation if he waited on California’s donation list, so Jobs put his name on Tennessee’s shorter list — a move that also shined a light on the system’s inequalities. The state switch worked, and Jobs received a transplant in 2009. Jobs died in 2011 due to complications from pancreatic cancer, but the liver transplant he received in Tennessee helped extend his life.

Registering in and traveling to a different state for a donation isn’t an option for the majority of people, though. A new person is added to the wait list for an organ every 10 minutes, and 22 people die every day while waiting for an organ, according to a White House announcement in May. The shortage stems in large part from the gap between the 95 percent of Americans who support donation, and the 50 percent who are registered donors.

That’s where companies like Apple come in:

Apple's Health app update will make it easier for people to become an organ donor.


“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, [per donor]” Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, says in a press release. “Together with Donate Life America, we’re excited to deliver this new feature to iPhone users in the U.S. with iOS 10.”

People can register to be organ donors by mail, online with Donate Life, and through the DMV. There are also registry apps on Android like Body Organ Donation, but Apple’s Health update will include the registry option without the user having to download anything else.

Apple iOS 10 was announced during the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference. Updates to iMessage and changes to the Apple Watch were among the announcements, but the donation registry was only announced today.

The donation registry will be free on all phones with the iOS 10 update in the fall. Users can get an early look at iOS 10 this month in a public beta program.

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