Beginning January 1, 2018, 16- and 17-year-olds in Illinois will able to join the organ donor registry thanks to the “Drive Fore Life” bill, which was signed into law on Tuesday, August 8. Supported by the Secretary of State, a coalition of state legislators and Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network and Mid-America Transplant, this critical legislation amends Section 6-117 of the Illinois Vehicle Code to allow Illinois residents 16 and older to join the organ donor registry.

The “Drive for Life” act ensures all residents 16 and older may choose to officially join the First-Person Authorization Registry. While the law gives 16- and 17-year-olds the right to express their wishes, parents and legal guardians will maintain the right to give or revoke consent until the registered donors turn 18-years-old. Beginning January 1, 2018, young adults wishing to register will be able to sign up.

“This is a historic day for Illinois and the organ donation community. I would like to thank Governor Rauner for his support and for signing this legislation into law and the support and dedication of Secretary of State, Jesse White. Additionally, we greatly appreciate, the Honorable Daniel P. Brady from the Illinois House of Representatives, Rep. Deb Conroy (D-Villa Park) and Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) and our coalition of supporters for their commitment to organ and tissue donation in Illinois,” said Kevin Cmunt, President/CEO of Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network.

Last year, Gift of Hope recovered a record 1,242 lifesaving organs for transplant thanks to the generous decisions of 392 donors and their families. “Through legislation, like the Drive for Life Act, we are closer to reaching our goal of transforming Chicago into the transplant hub of the nation by increasing the number of organs transplant to 2,000 per year by 2020,” continues Cmunt.

In Illinois alone, more than 4,700 people are on the waiting list and about 300 people die each year waiting for an organ transplant. Illinois Secretary of State, Jesse White estimates the new law would allow an additional 350,000 individuals to join the organ donor registry. This translates to thousands of lives saved or improved by organ and tissue donation.

Jacob Lenzini, a senior at Main South High School in Park Ridge, Ill. is going to be one of the first to register to become an organ donor come January. His father, Chris Lenzini, became a donor after passing away in November 2014.

“I will never get to see my dad again but just knowing that a piece of him is still out there helping someone else is great thing,” said Lenzini. “My dad was a great guy and organ donation fit well with who he was. I want to be like him, always willing to help others, and I’m excited that I now have the opportunity to sign up to be an organ donor.”

The “Drive for Life” act empowers young adults to let their intentions be known and helps families start a conversation that has the potential to save lives. Allowing young adults to declare their intentions can make the final decision easier for parents and guardians should their loved ones become potential donors.