HIV and Health Advocates Submit Comments on Guidelines for Organ Donation to CDC

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Guidelines revised for the first time since 1994
December 21, 2011
Scott Schoettes

"When you need a donated organ, you want to know as much as you can about the health of the organ – anything else is irrelevant.”

(New York, NY, December 21, 2011) —In comments submitted today to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Lambda Legal, the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA), AIDS United  and amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research say they are pleased that the CDC is updating guidelines for organ donation to include more current scientific information about HIV, but urge the agency to do more to maximize the supply of organs available for transplantation from medically qualified donors throughout our society, including gay men, bisexual men, and transgender people.

"The CDC is heading in the right direction by no longer singling out men who have sex with men for differential treatment, but the guidelines could be further improved,” said Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal. “Regardless of the sexual orientation of the donor, the most important thing to know is whether the organ can be safely transplanted.  We now have tests that detect blood-borne infections like HIV within a matter of weeks after infection, and any limits on the use of donated organs should correspond with our ability to rule out the presence of such infections.  When you need a donated organ, you want to know as much as you can about the health of the organ – anything else is irrelevant.” 

"We hope that incorporating up-to-date scientific evidence about HIV and hepatitis transmission risks in the organ donation guidelines will help move the Food and Drug Adminstration forward on blood donation guidelines as well," Schoettes added.

Lambda Legal submitted comments to the Office of Blood, Organ, and Other Tissue Safety at the CDC to update the 1994 guidelines for reducing transmission of blood-borne infections through solid organ transplantation. The  guidelines are intended to minimize the risk of transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis while maximizing the supply of organs available for transplantation from medically qualified donors.  Gay & Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA), AIDS United and  amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research and signed on to the comments letter.

In the comments, the advocates applaud the CDC’s proposal to standardize the “look-back period” to 12 months for assessing risk factors that may lead a potential donor to be placed in the “increased risk” category. The current rules disqualify potential male donors who have had sex with a man within 5 years, but only look at other risk factors going back 12 months. The longer look-back period for men who have sex with men (MSM) is not scientifically justified and unfairly deprives people in need of an organ transplant simply because the potential donor is gay or bisexual. The groups add, however, that the 12 month “look-back period” suggested by the guidelines review committee is still longer than necessary, because the universally used tests can detect infections that occurred more than six months prior to donation.

Lambda Legal and the co-signatories to the comments urge that the guidelines should further distinguish between relatively low-risk sexual contact (e.g., oral sex or sex with a condom) and sexual contacts involving greater risk. Along with that recommendation, the groups endorse the development of a donor risk index to provide potential organ recipients with a tool that would allow relevant, useful information regarding potential risks to be communicated without discussion of the specific behaviors identified as risk factors for the donor in question.

The groups also commend the Review Committee for suggesting that research be conducted regarding organ donations from HIV-positive individuals to other HIV-positive individuals.

To read the comments visit: www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/ltr_20111221_organ-transplantation-guideline-comments

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Contact Info

Lambda Legal contact: Lisa Hardaway C: 973-902-9298; E: lhardaway@lambdalegal.org

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

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