President Signs HOPE Act, Clearing the Way for HIV Positive Organ Donation

The new law could potentially lead to organ donations between HIV positive people.

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Evan Vucci / AP

President Barack Obama speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, after signing S. 330: the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act. From left are, Dr. Peter Stock, president-elect of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. and Dr. Dan Salomon, president of the American Society of Transplantation.

Two weeks before World AIDS Day, President Obama has signed a new law that replaces a ban on using the organs of HIV positive people. It has been illegal since the 1980s to even study whether or not transplants between HIV positive people could be done safely and effectively. Under the new HIV Organ Policy Equity Act, also known as the HOPE Act, which Obama signed Thursday, researchers at the Department of Health and Human Services can begin to research best practices for organ transplants between people with HIV.

There is currently no American research on whether or not the transplants will be effective, though there was research published in the American Journal of Transplantation last March that suggested there is potential for almost 500 people on the donor list who are HIV positive to receive organs from HIV positive people every year.

“Once research in this area opens up it is possible that we can use these organs in transplants for people who have been infected with HIV,” Robert Walsh the Director of the Division of Transplantation at HRSA told TIME. “It could potentially provide a new source of organs for people who are HIV positive.”

Before the law passed any organ that came from an HIV positive donor had to be thrown away. In 1988, an amendment to the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 banned the transplant of any organ from a person with HIV.

On Feb. 14, 2013, which is also National Donor Day, the bipartisan Hope Act was introduced in both houses of Congress. It was drafted by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), a registered nurse, along with Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Tom Coburn (R-Ok.). Sen. Coburn is a medical doctor.

“I am thrilled to see the President sign the HOPE Act into law today,” Capps said in a statement. “This proves that even in a divided Congress, we can come together to pass common sense bills with bipartisan efforts that will help save lives, improve health outcomes, and save taxpayer dollars.”

Andrea Levario, a senior public policy advocate at the Human Rights campaign says the organization was thrilled by the news.

“The decades-old policy is antiquated. It hasn’t kept pace with where science is,” Levario told TIME. “This is a win-win for everyone.”