Obama signs bipartisan bill lifting ban on HIV-positive organ transplants

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President Barack Obama signed into law Thursday a bill lifting the ban on organ transplants between people who are HIV-positive.

The HIV Organ Policy Equity Act, also known as the HOPE Act, ends a decades-long federal ban on allowing donated HIV-positive organs from being translated into HIV-positive patients.

“For decades, these organ transplants have been illegal. It was even illegal to study whether they could be safe and effective,” Obama said in a statement after signing the bill. “But as our understanding of HIV and effective treatments have grown, that policy has become outdated. The potential for successful organ transplants between people living with HIV has become more of a possibility.” 

By lifting the research ban, Obama said a door has been opened that could “lead to life-saving organ donations for people living with HIV while ensuring the safety of the organ transplant process and strengthening the national supply of organs for all who need them.”

The HOPE Act received bipartisan approval in both houses of Congress earlier this year. Introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the Senate approved the bill in June with no opposition. The House of Representatives passed the Senate version of the bill earlier this month, with Reps. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and Andy Harris (R-Md.) leading the fight in the House.

“The bipartisan passage of the HOPE Act will fundamentally improve the quality of healthcare available for people living with HIV and AIDS,” said Allison Herwitt, vice president for government affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement. “By removing these antiquated barriers to transplants, the lives of hundreds of people living with HIV and AIDS can be saved each year.”

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 transplants, opening the door for the HHS secretary to permit HIV-positive transplants in HIV-positive patients when that research is complete. 

According to HRC, more than 100,000 patients are currently waiting for organ transplants, with about 50,000 added each year. Permitting HIV-positive organ transplants in HIV-positive patients with liver or kidney failure could save up to 1,000 people per year. 

“Improving care for people living with HIV is critical to fighting the epidemic, and it’s a key goal of my National HIV/AIDS Strategy,” Obama said. “The HOPE Act marks an important step in the right direction, and I thank Congress for their action.”

[Photo: Barack Obama. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.]

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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