Senate Committee Clears Bill to Lift Ban on HIV Organ Donation

by Charles Joughin

Legislation eliminates barriers impeding access to life-saving care for people living with HIV and AIDS

WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights group, today lauded the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee for approving the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act, S. 330.  The bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Tom Coburn, (R-OK), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Rand Paul (R-KY) would lift a federal ban on the donation of HIV-positive organs to HIV-positive recipients, making it possible for researchers to study the safety of such procedures.

Today, more than 100,000 patients are actively waiting for life-saving organs and about 50,000 more are added annually. Permitting organs from HIV-positive donors to be used for transplant in HIV-infected patients with liver or kidney failure could save as many as 1,000 people each year.  As organs from HIV-infected donors would only be transplanted to HIV-infected transplant candidates, the waiting time for HIV-infected people who accept HIV-infected organs would most certainly decrease, as would  the general waiting list for uninfected people awaiting transplants.

“The HOPE Act represents sound public health policy,” said HRC legislative director Allison Herwitt. “The action by the Senate HELP Committee is a major step forward in removing an outdated barrier which impedes access to lifesaving transplants for persons with HIV and AIDS.”

The HOPE Act directs the Department of Health and Human Services and the Organ Procurement Transplant Network (OPTN) to develop and institute standards for research on HIV-positive organ transplantation and permits the Secretary to permit positive-to-positive transplantation if it is determined that the results of research warrant such a change.  The Secretary would be required to direct OPTN to develop standards to ensure that positive-to-positive transplantation does not impact the safety of the organ transplantation network.

Senator Barbara Boxer said, “I applaud the Senate HELP Committee for approving the HOPE Act, which could save hundreds of lives a year and would give hope to patients waiting for transplants.”

Knowledge about HIV, AIDS, and treatment of the disease has advanced significantly since the ban was instituted in 1988. 

Senator Tom Coburn, a physician, emphasized that, “This legislation will allow sound science to explore organ exchanges between HIV-positive donors and HIV-positive recipients.  If research shows positive results, HIV positive patients will have an increased pool of donors.”

The Centers for Disease Control issued draft Public Health Service Guidelines in September of 2011 that recommended research in this area, but noted that federal law has blocked this important research from taking place in the United States. The United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages the nation’s organ transplant system, and over 40 other patient and medical advocacy organizations have endorsed the HOPE Act. 

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political organization with members throughout the country. It effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support and educates the public to ensure that LGBT Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.


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