Over a weekend full of popular culture’s favorite characters dying, Netflix’s new show Chambers premiered on the streaming service. Unlike Game of Thrones and Avengers Endgame, though, Chambers will likely get actual people killed.
The show, starring Uma Thurman, is about Sasha Yazzie (Sivan Alyra Rose), a young woman who has a heart attack while attempting to lose her virginity. She gets a second chance at life by a heart transplant, which later begins to take on a paranormal dimension. I can hear Netflix thinking: April is organ donation awareness month; it’s a perfect time to release a horror show exploiting organ transplantation. But, according to research, Chambers’ negative representation will lead to more people dying while waiting for organ transplants. In the United States, that puts about 114,000 people in need of an organ donation at risk.
“Make no mistake: this show will cost some people their lives,” said Dr. Susan Morgan, a University of Miami professor who has led extensive research on the impact of negative organ donation representation in the media and its effects on the general public.
In her research, Morgan’s has found that people’s understanding of organ donation comes directly from TV and film, which often primarily feature negative and damaging portrayals. Often, families of potential donors will cite specific storylines from Grey’s Anatomy or the movie The Coma as a reason for not allowing their deceased member to become donors. These negative images emotionally stain people’s view of organ donation and cause the donor pool—the list of people willing to donate in death—to shrink. Recent headlines such as “The Chambers Trailer Will Make You Uncheck That Donor Box at the DMV” make painfully clear that Chambers is already damaging emotional attitudes. [We've contacted Netflix and will update if we hear back.]
This will limit the number of transplants that can be done every year, leading to more and more people dying on the transplant list. People like me: Seven years ago, I received a double lung transplant after pulmonary failure brought on by Cystic Fibrosis. I spent weeks in the ICU leading up to the transplant and utilized every piece of life-sustaining medical equipment to stay alive. The call for my transplant came hours before I would have probably died had the organ not become available. I’m lucky that I was on the list for only a week. But most people don’t beat the odds.
The waitlist for organ donation can last on average from three to five years. Many patients do not live that long; about 22 people a day die waiting in the US. That adds up to about 8,030 deaths per year: approximately 7 percent of waitlisters in the country dying each year due to a shortage in available organs. This is partly because, while 95 percent of the public say they support organ donation, only 58 percent are actually registered donors.
Millions of people in the United States could be registered donors but are not, and some of this happens because of prevailing negative beliefs about the organ donation process. Organ donation registration is often driven by emotional attitudes towards donation instead of knowledge about the issue. Chambers will most certainly be a cause of more people not signing up to be donors because of the irrational fear around a paranormal heart.
“What viewers think about organ donation is directly related to what they see in TV storylines so without an advisory warning or a link to get accurate information, viewers will be left with a negative emotional connection to the donation and transplant process,” said Tenaya Wallace, director of Donate Life Hollywood, a national campaign supported by the donation and transplant community that works with Hollywood to correct misrepresentation and damaging stereotypes related to organ donation. Donate Life Hollywood, Donate Life America, and dozens of other donation and transplant organizations have called on Netflix to add disclaimers and to endorse organ donation.
This isn’t the first time that Netflix has created a show exploiting at-risk communities. In March of 2017 experts called 13 Reasons Why problematic in its portrayal of teen suicide. Suicide-prevention experts cautioned Netflix, and only after research showed that 13 Reasons Why led to a copycat incident and an uptake in Googling “how to commit suicide” did Netflix act by adding advisory warnings and links to suicide hotlines.
By then it was already too late.
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