June 18, 2013

Senate Passes Bill Ending Ban On HIV-Positive Organ Donation Research

Posted by: Bridgette P. LaVictoire on June 18, 2013.

The HIV Organ Policy Equity Act (HOPE Act) passed late last night. The bill had bipartisan support, and its passage was praised by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). The legislation would lift “the federal ban on research into organ donations from HIV-positive donors to HIV-positive recipients.”

Following the passage of the HOPE Act, Senator Boxer stated “I applaud the Senate for moving to end this outdated ban on research into organ donations between HIV-positive individuals. This legislation offers hope for thousands of patients who are waiting for transplants by allowing scientists to research safe and effective ways to transplant these organs and save lives.”

She was joined in praising its passage by Senator Coburn, who is a medical doctor. Senator Coburn stated “The passage of the HOPE Act is an encouraging step forward for HIV-positive individuals who need organ transplants. By lifting these arcane federal regulations, we give hope by allowing doctors and scientists to explore potentially transformative research into organ donations between HIV-positive patients.”

The bill was “sponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Rand Paul (R-KY), Richard Burr (R-NC), Michael Enzi (R-WY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Carl Levin (D-MI).”

The bill would, eventually, allow for the transplantation of HIV-positive organs into the bodies of those who already suffer from the disease. There are, currently, thousands of HIV-positive individuals who are in need of organ transplants, but the ban on researching the feasibility of the transplants is banned by federal law.

According to Senator Boxer’s office, the HOPE Act would establish a standardized review process overseen by the Health and Human Services Secretary. HHS would “evaluate the process of medical research into the procedures.” If they find that the research shows that it is possible to safely and successfully transplant organs from HIV-positive donors to HIV-positive recipients, then the HHS Secretary will be able to direct the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network to set up procedures for these transplantations to occur.

The HOPE Act overturns the ban on HIV-positive organ donation and research first put into place as part of the Organ Transplant Amendments Act of 1988. The OTAA is now woefully out of date “thanks to advances in antiretroviral therapy.” Because of those therapies, HIV-positive individuals are living longer lives, and because they are living longer lives, they are faicing chronic conditions such as liver and kidney failure.

In the early days of HIV/AIDS, information regarding the disease was still being gathered, and a lot of misinformation was available.  During that time, people thought that the disease could be passed through casual contact.  For medical personnel, the disease, which is passed through bodily fluids, resulted in numerous changes in how they handled patient care including and especially around situations involving blood and saliva.  Bans on blood donation by gay men, which are still in place in the United States, came into effect after several cases of people contracting the disease thanks to contaminated blood.

Boxer’s office notes that “There are currently more than 100,000 patients on the active waiting list for organ transplants in the United States and about 50,000 people are added to the list each year – but fewer than 30,000 transplants are performed annually. Tragically, many patients die while waiting for a transplant.” One study has pointed out that allowing organ transplants from HIV-positive donors to HIV-positive recipients would have the effect of increasing the donation pool by about 500 to 600 donors a year, saving hundreds of lives.

A long list of medical associations support the bill “including the American Medical Association, American Society of Transplant Surgeons, American Society of Transplantation, Association of Organ Procurement Organizations, American Academy of HIV Medicine, American Society for the Study of Liver Disease, the Human Rights Campaign, National Minority AIDS Council, HIV Medicine Association, National Coalition for LGBT Health, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, United Network for Organ Sharing, The AIDS Institute, amfAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research), Lambda Legal, the Treatment Access Group (TAG), and AIDS United.”

Focus on passing the HOPE Act now shifts to the House where it has been supported by a bipartisan group headed up by Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA) and Andy Harris (R-MD).


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