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From the Daily: An outdated policy

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published April 13, 2011

Throughout the 1980s, HIV caused major anxieties in the United States and a law was passed to prohibit any HIV-positive patients from being organ donors. However, in recent years, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has deemed the disease to be much less threatening than initially thought, if proper medical practices are followed. Federal health officials and other experts are working to overturn the 23-year-old law in order to allow HIV-positive patients to receive organs from HIV-positive donors. This change in policy would give more HIV-positive patients the chance to live longer lives and would end the waste of viable organs.

There's a huge shortage of transplant organs in the United States. There are currently more than 110,000 people awaiting transplants. According to an April 11 article in The New York Times, “500 to 600 HIV-infected livers and kidneys would become available each year if the law were changed.” Every time an organ from an HIV-positive donor is given to an HIV-infected person, one less patient remains on the ever growing organ transplant list. Currently, organs from HIV-positive people are simply going to waste. They could be used to save lives.

There are obvious health risks involved with receiving an organ from an HIV-positive person. HIV-positive patients wouldn't be forced to accept an HIV-positive organ, as there are concerns that it could intensify their own illness because they could receive an organ from an HIV-positive donor with a more advanced strain of the virus. But doctors have already begun to discuss criteria necessary to give or receive an organ from an HIV-infected donor, in which patients whose illness has progressed past a certain point wouldn’t be allowed to donate or receive an organ. If precautionary screening measures are taken, HIV-positive patients should at least be given the option of accepting an organ donation from another HIV-positive patient after discussions with their doctor.

According to the Times article, if the ban is overturned, a clinical trial will most likely be implemented before the option to receive an organ from an HIV-positive donor is available to patients. While some experts quoted in the article have said they can “foresee such transplants even for HIV-negative patients because contracting [the virus] would be preferable to kidney or liver failure,” the initial trial plans would include only HIV-positive patients because it is still unknown what effects an infected organ would have on an HIV-negative patient. It’s vital that doctors take every precaution while implementing this trial in order to ensure the safety of transplant patients.

Another safety concern is that an HIV-infected organ could be mistakenly transplanted to a healthy person. While errors have been made in past transplant procedures, hospitals can mitigate this possibility by being attentive to their patients and careful about the storage and transportation of HIV-infected organs, so there is no reason this should have to be a major concern.

HIV has become a manageable disease with the proper treatment, and many HIV-positive people live long lives. It is time to begin to work past the stigma of this disease, and allow patients to make their own, educated decisions. Patients who are HIV-positive shouldn’t have to wait a long time on an organ transplant list when they could safely be receiving organs from HIV-positive donors. The amendment to the National Organ Transplantation Act should be repealed.