Bioethics Blogs

Facial Recognition Software and Improved Organ Donor Matching

Linda Wright briefly explains “hoped-for” GeneSetMatch technology and highlights problems for informed consent and public trust.


Progress requires imagination. New ideas on how to find more organs for transplantation bring welcome hope of extending more lives. Some initiatives use science to improve the medical acceptability of more organs, whilst others, such as social media, reach out to more people to increase the chance of finding more organ donors.

Organ donation cannot succeed without public trust. Recent controversies about unfair access to transplantation by those using social media to find donors has had a negative impact on the public’s perception of the transplant system. This strategy has also found suitable organs donors, however.

GeneSetMatch is a new research idea. The developers hope to apply science and bioinformatics to explore possible ways of using facial recognition to find living organ donors. They want to develop software to link facial features with HLA types. The goal is to identify persons likely to have immune system genes that match someone who needs an organ transplant. This technology could potentially identify more potential living donors. As living donation is the best treatment for most people needing a kidney transplant, this could be exciting.

Simultaneously, the technology being developed by GeneSetMatch raises interesting questions about how people relate to each other, and about the application of science in the modern world. Will this technology (or something similar) be seen as a major breakthrough? Or, will such technology result in another controversy similar to that with the use of social media to find organ donors?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.