1996 Finalist
State of Illinois
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

In 1996, more than 2,500 people in Illinois needed organ transplants. At the time, it was projected that approximately a third would die waiting for suitable organs. The situation was particularly dire for minorities, who generally had greater need and required closer matches for a successful transplant. Exacerbating this problem was the reality that participation of minorities in the organ donation program was particularly low. In addition, thousands in Illinois needed tissue transplants, which were also in short supply.

The Illinois Secretary of State's office responded to this problem by developing the "Life Goes On" organ and tissue donor awareness program. This was the first instance of a publicly funded program for increasing organ and tissue donor awareness. Beginning in 1992, the program conducted a statewide media campaign to encourage donor registration, family discussion and the actual donation of organs and tissues. The comprehensive campaign included television and radio spots, press releases, newspaper ads, as well as direct mail flyers and registration cards. A targeted effort was made to reach out to minorities by including ethnic representatives in the program and focusing on media outlets with strong minority demographics.

The Life Goes On program also provided intensive education to Department of Motor Vehicle employees on the Organ and Tissue Donor Registry, since the DMV is where most citizens are likely to decide whether to become a donor. In addition, the program installed appealing print and video displays in DMV locations, which included information about new and different ways of entry into the registry. The registry also established a 24-hour hotline for organ banks and coroners to quickly inform families about the wishes of their loved ones to be donors.

The most effective tool for gauging the success of the program is the total number of people who joined the Donor Registry. Between 1993 and 1995, the number of participants increased yearly from 20 percent to 17 percent to 38 percent. Increases in the registration of minorities followed similar trends, with their rate of participation nearly doubling. The most notable result of the Life Goes On program is that Illinois now holds the largest Organ and Tissue Donor Registry of any state in the country. Prior to 1992, it was one of the most depleted in the country.