November 13, 2013 at 8:57 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Bill will allow HIV-positive people to donate organs
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The U.S. House approved a bill to enable the donation of organs by HIV-positive people. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. House approved legislation on Tuesday that would lift the ban on the donation of organs from HIV-positive people to others with HIV, sending the legislation to President Obama’s desk.

The measure, known as the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act, or HOPE Act, was approved by the House by voice vote. Although versions of the legislation were introduced in both chambers of Congress, the House approved the Senate-passed version, which the Senate approved in June by unanimous consent.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee from which the bill emerged, said in a statement to the Washington Blade the legislation is “a commonsense proposal that has the potential to save lives.”

“With 100,000 patients waiting for life-saving organs, permitting HIV-positive donors to be used for transplants could save as many as 1,000 HIV-infected patients every year,” Upton said. “By passing this bipartisan legislation we can provide hope to those in need of a new organ.”

The HOPE Act directs the Department of Health & Human Services and the Organ Procurement Transplant Network, or OPTN, to create standards for research on HIV-positive organ transplantation. It permits the secretary to permit positive-to-positive transplantation if the results of research are determined to warrant such a change. The secretary would be required to direct OPTN to create standards to ensure that the organ transplant doesn’t impact the safety of the transplantation network.

Allison Herwitt, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president for government affairs, commended Congress for approving the legislation on a bipartisan basis.

“The bipartisan passage of the HOPE Act will fundamentally improve the quality of healthcare available for people living with HIV and AIDS,” Herwitt said. “By removing these antiquated barriers to transplants, the lives of hundreds of people living with HIV and AIDS can be saved each year.”

In the Senate, the bill was introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) along with Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) as original co-sponsors. In the House, Reps. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) was lead sponsor and Andy Harris (R-Md.) was an original co-sponsor.

In a statement, Coburn, a physician, praised the House for following the Senate’s lead in approving legislation to undo the ban on HIV-positive organ donation.

“For years, arcane federal rules have restricted what could be potentially life-saving organ transplants for HIV-positive individuals,” Coburn said. “I applaud the House of Representatives for following the Senate’s lead and taking action to lift these rules.”

It’s unclear when President Obama will sign the legislation. The House still has to enroll the bill to send it to the White House.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the bipartisan support for reforming the ban on the donation of HIV-positive organs is “very encouraging.”

“The federal government’s approach to HIV/AIDS should reflect what we know in 2013, not the fear and lack of knowledge that signified the 1980s,” Thompson said. “The HOPE Act will empower those living with HIV to have greater control over their medical care, and has the potential to save hundreds of lives each year by making more organs available for safe transplantation.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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