U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) today praised the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee's passage of the HOPE Act (HIV Organ Policy Equity Act), legislation that would end the federal ban on research into organ donations from HIV-positive donors to HIV-positive recipients.
The bipartisan measure -- which is also sponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Rand Paul (R-KY), Michael Enzi (R-WY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) -- would open a pathway to the eventual transplantation of these organs, offering hope to thousands of HIV-positive patients who are on waiting lists for life-saving organs. Currently, even researching the feasibility of such transplants is banned under federal law.
Senator 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."
Senator Coburn said, "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 Boxer-Coburn bill would establish a regular review process in which the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary would evaluate the progress of medical research into these procedures. If the research demonstrates that transplants from HIV-positive donors to HIV-positive recipients can be safely and successfully completed, the HHS Secretary would have the authority to direct the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network to establish safe procedures to begin such transplantations.
The ban on the donation of organs from HIV-positive donors and related research was enacted as part of the Organ Transplant Amendments Act of 1988, but is now medically outdated. With the advances in antiretroviral therapy, many HIV-positive patients are living longer lives. These patients are now more likely to face chronic conditions such as liver and kidney failure, for which organ transplants are the standard form of care.
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. According to a study published in the American Journal of Transplantation, allowing organ transplants between HIV-positive patients could increase the organ donation pool by 500-600 donors a year and save hundreds of lives.
The American Medical Association (AMA), the nation's largest association of physicians and medical students, endorsed the bill in a letter this week. The legislation has broad support from the medical community and advocacy groups, including the 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.