Recent studies have shown excellent outcomes in carefully selected HIV-infected recipients of kidneys. Last month, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee made life a little better for people awaiting an organ transplant. It passed the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act, legislation designed to end the federal ban on research into organ donations from deceased HIV-positive donors to HIV-positive recipients. It would permit the Secretary of Health and Human Services to sanction such transplant operations if the research establishes their safety.
Those infected with HIV are now living much longer and, as a consequence, are suffering more kidney failure. Advocates of the legislation, which has bipartisan support in the House, estimate that organs from deceased HIV-positive donors could each year save about 1,000 HIV-infected patients who suffer from liver and kidney failure. With 117,000 on the kidney transplant list, this type of donation would also be beneficial to non-HIV patients who are waiting for a kidney.
The need for kidney donors is huge, and a new name is added to the waiting list approximately every 10 minutes. Future beneficiaries of HOPE are not just the patients desperate for a new kidney; the donors also benefit by leaving their organs to medicine. Giving the “gift of life,” which is the narrative long championed by the transplant community to encourage people to become donors, is an opportunity to perform the ultimate charitable act—saving the life of another. Through posthumous donation, some people see the chance to fulfill a moral obligation to help others or to make something life-affirming come from their death.