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Illinois Gov. Signs Into Law Measure That Would Allow HIV-Positive Residents to Donate Organs to Other HIV-Positive People

July 16, 2004

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) on Thursday signed into law a bill (HB 3857) that makes the state the first in the country to allow HIV-positive people to donate organs to other people living with HIV, the AP/Chicago Tribune reports (Lannan, AP/Chicago Tribune, 7/15). The measure was approved by the state House in March and the state Senate in May (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/7). Under current federal guidelines established by HHS and coordinated by the United Network for Organ Sharing, organs from HIV-positive patients are discarded to prevent them from being transplanted to uninfected patients (AP/Chicago Tribune, 7/15). The new bill can "save the lives" of HIV-positive people waiting for transplants, who under the federal regulations have been barred from receiving transplants from other HIV-positive people, state Rep. Larry McKeon (D) said. However, details on implementation and legal details are still unclear, according to the New York Times. Federal authorities have questioned whether the legislation violates provisions of the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984. However, although lawyers for Blagojevich said that state doctors may need to seek variances to federal regulations in order to perform HIV-positive organ transplants, Blagojevich spokesperson Abby Ottenhoff said the state believes it can proceed as planned with the law. "We're hopeful that by removing an obstacle in Illinois, they'll be able to make changes at the federal level," Ottenhoff said. Advocates of the legislation said the law will require the creation of a separate organ donor pool in the state for HIV-positive patients. All organ donations will continue to be screened for infection, disease and other problems, according to the Times. In addition, advocates of the law say that other states will be prompted to enact similar laws and perhaps prompt change at the federal level, according to the Times.

In the past, people living with HIV were not considered good candidates for organ donations because of their reduced life expectancy, the Times reports. Advancements in drug treatments, however, have extended life expectancies of potential HIV-positive organ recipients, according to the Times (Davey, New York Times, 7/16). "As we learn more about HIV and AIDS, and the medications used to manage the disease, we need to be willing to explore new ways to treat and care for those with the devastating illness," Blagojevich said (Chicago Tribune, 7/16). According to AIDS Foundation of Chicago Associate Director David Munar, the legislation will "go a long way toward helping the growing number of people with HIV/AIDS who will face organ failure and need an organ transplant" (AFC release, 7/15). However, some opponents of the bill said that the legislation could lead to the mistaken transplant of an HIV-infected organ into an HIV-negative individual (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/7). The only group that publicly opposed the law was the Illinois State Medical Society, which said language should be included in the legislation to prevent doctors from being held liable if an HIV-negative patient accidentally contracted HIV during a transplant, according to the Tribune (Chicago Tribune, 7/16). Dr. Robert Harland, transplant surgeon at the University of Chicago, added that it could be possible for an HIV-positive patient to be infected with a different strand of the virus through an organ transplant. "This is in its infancy," he said, adding, "It's totally unknown at this point in time" (New York Times, 7/16).

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