California rushes to allow HIV-infected organ transplants

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers approved emergency legislation Friday to allow a man with HIV to receive part of his HIV-positive husband’s liver before the surgery becomes too dangerous, possibly within weeks.

The federal government recently authorized transplants of HIV-infected organs to patients who have the disease, but it’s still illegal under California law and in more than a dozen other states. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s office said he would sign the bill promptly after the state Assembly and Senate passed it.

The University of California, San Francisco Medical Center is one of four U.S. hospitals authorized to transplant HIV-infected organs. Transplant surgeon Dr. Peter Stock says he hopes to perform the operation quickly, but he will need time to do tests and preparation on the patients.

There are 65 HIV-positive patients waiting for kidney or liver transplants at the hospital, including another man in particularly urgent need of a liver. That man does not have a living donor.

California has some of the nation’s longest waits for organs, and increasing the supply will help everyone, whether they are HIV-positive or not, Stock said.

“There are so many desperate people out there waiting for organs,” the surgeon said. “The donor shortage is such a problem. Literally, we lose people every week.”

California’s ban on donating HIV-infected organs, blood and semen is a product of fear over the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and ’90s. Recent advances in testing and treatment for HIV and AIDS is now allowing patients to live far longer.

Doctors have been transplanting healthy organs into patients with HIV for years, with mostly similar rates of success to transplants for non-HIV patients.

“With this legislation, we’re saving a life this month, and many more to come,” said Sen. Ben Allen, a Democrat from Santa Monica who wrote the bill.