Senate Committee Passes Bill To End Ban On HIV-Positive Organ Donation

Is It Finally Time To End 23-Year-Old Ban On HIV-Positive Organ Donation?

Last week, a Senate committee cleared a piece of legislation that could lead to the end of a ban on HIV-positive to HIV-positive organ donation.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed its version of the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act on Wednesday, March 20. One of the bill's cosponsors, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), applauded the committee's bipartisan cooperation

“I am proud to have worked across party lines on this important issue. The HOPE Act is a bipartisan, commonsense bill that reflects the progress we are making in medicine, as well as in breaking down the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS,” Baldwin said in a statement. “By allowing us to move forward with this critical research, the HOPE Act will help decrease the organ wait-time, save countless lives and reduce health care costs in the long-run.”

Currently, even researching HIV-positive organ donation is against the law because of a 1988 amendment to the National Organ Transplant Act. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, experts say that law is outdated and harmful and deprives needy patients of potentially hundreds of organs a year.

According to a 2011 study, lifting the ban would make hundreds of H.I.V.-infected livers and kidneys available every year.

"Due to superior medical management of human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV) infection coupled with improvements in transplant outcomes, HIV infection is no longer considered an absolute contraindication to solid organ transplantation," the study authors wrote. "Recent studies have shown excellent outcomes in carefully selected HIV-infected recipients of kidneys and livers."

The need for organs of any kind is huge. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows more than 115,000 Americans need organ transplants, with a new name being added to the national waiting list approximately every 10 minutes. Because HIV-positive patients are particularly vulnerable to kidney and liver failure, many are also waiting on lengthy organ donation lists, reports The Chronicle.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who introduced the bill alongside Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on National Donor Day in February, said that the time was right to act.

“Our scientific understanding of AIDS is much better than when this research ban was established," Coburn, who is also a doctor, said in a statement. "Those infected with HIV are now living much longer and, as a consequence, are suffering more kidney and liver failures."

Coburn added that ending the ban could also reduce health care costs and save taxpayers money.

Doctors told The New York Times that many of the lingering concerns about HIV-positive donation -- spreading a more virulent strain of HIV through donations, for example -- could be minimized by careful screening. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also expressed its support.

“We would like to see as many safe transplants occurring as possible, and there’s no reason why H.I.V.-positive recipients shouldn’t get transplants and that H.I.V.-positive donors can’t be used,” said Dr. Matthew Kuehnert, who directs the CDC’s Office of Blood, Organ and Other Tissue Safety, told the Times.

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