Senators Push To End The Research Ban On HIV-Positive Organ Donations

Twenty five years after an amendment to the National Organ Transplant Act made it illegal for HIV-positive Americans to receive organ transplants from HIV-positive donors — or to even conduct research on such transplants — a bipartisan group of senators is hoping to reverse course.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act in the Senate on Thursday to “establish a regular review process in which the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary would evaluate the progress of medical research” into organ transplants between two HIV-positive people, with the eventual goal of eliminating the ban on such procedures entirely.

The amendment that led to the current ban was a consequence of the poor understanding of HIV/AIDS-related matters at the time. But as Coburn — who is a physician — said in a press release introducing the legislation, “Our scientific understanding of AIDS is much better than when this research ban was established. 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.”

The number of HIV-positive patients successfully receiving liver, kidney, and heart transplants has been on the rise overall, as there is no formal law prohibiting HIV-positive patients from receiving organs from Americans who do not carry the virus. But the new push to end the ban on transplants between two HIV-positive individuals reflects the huge strides in HIV treatments and medical innovation over the last two decades, including the recent FDA approval of a once-a-day HIV treatment pill and vastly increased life expectancy for HIV-positive Americans.

Opening up avenues for organ transplants is especially critical given America’s unsustainable dearth of annually performed transplant operations, which leaves more than 70,000 Americans on transplant lists without the organs they need every year. “With so many lives at stake, it is time to end this outdated ban on research into organ donations between HIV-positive individuals,” Boxer said in the release. A concurrent bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA), a registered nurse.