Doctors urge HIV-positive organ transplants be considered

    Area doctors are among those calling for a reversal in a decades-old federal law that prohibits HIV-positive people from donating organs.

    The law was written in the 1980s, when HIV was considered a death sentence. Now, new treatments have made the illness a chronic disease. Patients are living long enough to need kidney and liver transplants for disorders related to their diagnosis or its treatment.

    A recent study showed that up to 600 new donations could occur per year if HIV-positive people were allowed to donate kidneys and livers to other infected people.

    Dr. Kathleen Squires, head of the infectious disease division at Jefferson Medical College and chair of the HIV Medicine Association, said those with HIV have been  receiving kidney and liver donations for the past decade, with outcomes similar to the general population of transplant recipients.

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    “But the total organ pool is very, very low as it is,” Squires said. “So in that setting, the question is would it be feasible to use organs from HIV-infected patients to expand the pool of potential organs?”

    Squires said it is time for clinical trials to look at whether it is dangerous to transplant new strains of the virus into recipients’ bodies. She said the HIV Medicine Association will support efforts in Washington, D.C., to overturn the law.

    Dr. Scott Halpern, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said with thousands of people dying while waiting for transplants every year, the motivations for expanding the pool of available organs are obvious. Clinical trials for patients with end-stage organ failure who understand the risks of accepting an infected organ make sense.

    “The problem is whether those organs will truly be as good for HIV-positive recipients as non-infected organs,” Halpern said. “And that’s why we need more study.”

    If studies show infected organs are not as good as healthy ones, Halpern said the ethical issues surrounding how infected organs would be distributed would need to be worked out.

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