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Will The Ban on HIV Organ Donation Research Be Lifted?

By Michelle Garcia

A new bill is being introduced that would end a federal ban on research regarding organ donation between people with HIV.

People with HIV are living longer thanks to life-sustaining medical treatment, but HIVers also experience chronic conditions such as liver and kidney failure. If passed, the HOPE Act (HIV Organ Policy Equity Act) could open a pathway to allowing people with HIV transfer organs to other people with HIV, a practice that is has been banned since 1988. Even researching the topic is forbidden under federal law.

Under the HOPE Act, the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary would regularly evaluate the progress of medical research into HIV organ donations. If the research demonstrates that transplants from HIV-positive donors to HIV-positive recipients can be safely and successfully completed, the HHS Secretary would then authorize the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network to establish safe procedures to begin such transplantations.

The bipartisan measure was introduced by Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California and Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. The bill was also sponsored by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul and Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin. The bill will be introduced in the House by Rep. Lois Capps, a Democrat from California who is also a registered nurse.

Boxer called the current system outdated, and Coburn, who is also a medical doctor, said that the time is right to introduce such a bill. 

"Our scientific understanding of AIDS is much better than when this research ban was established," he said upon introducing the bill Thursday. "Those infected with HIV are now living much longer and, as a consequence, are suffering more kidney and liver failures. If research shows positive results, HIV-positive patients will have an increased pool of donors."

Capps added that the shortage of organs available for people is already alarming.

"Creating a science-based pathway for medical research to proceed may potentially allow for transplants between individuals with HIV, giving HIV-positive transplant patients a new lease on life while also helping to ease the strain on our entire organ transplant system, and save health care dollars."

With the current system, more than 100,000 people actively wait for an organ in the U.S., with 50,000 people added to the list each year. However, only 30,000 transplants are performed annually, which leads to many patients dying while waiting for a transplant.

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