US President Barack Obama has signed into law the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act, a new piece of legislation that would permit HIV-positive individuals for the first time to donate organs to others with the disease.
Under the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, organs from HIV-positive donors were unable to be donated, regardless of the disease status of the recipient. It was also, as Obama noted in a signing statement for the bill, "even illegal to study whether they could be safe and effective."
"As our understanding of HIV and effective treatments have grown, that policy has become outdated," Obama added.
The HOPE Act, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and co-sponsored 15 other legislators, passed the Senate in June and the House in November.
The relatively short bill would only permit organs to be donated to HIV-positive individuals if they are participating in clinical research approved by an institutional review board, though regulators may waive this requirement if they feel it "is no longer warranted."
The bill's provisions would not immediately go into effect. Instead, regulators will have two years in which to promulgate regulations establishing the process by which the transplants would take place, which would most likely include standards and safeguards for ensuring that HIV-positive organs don't enter into the non-infected supply chain.
That raises the prospect of two parallel donations systems existing side by side, one for HIV-negative patients and the other for HIV-positive, with different degrees of organ availability for each.
Despite the remaining questions, the bill had the strong support of Obama.
"In time, [the Hope Act] could lead to life-saving organ donations for people living with HIV while ensuring the safety of the organ transplant process and strengthening the national supply of organs for all who need them," Obama said. "The HOPE Act marks an important step in the right direction, and I thank Congress for their action."
Presidential Signing Statement