The California legislature passed a bill that would allow organ transplants between HIV-positive donors and HIV-positive recipients. Senate Bill (SB) 1408, authored by Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and co-sponsored by Equality California, AIDS Project Los Angeles, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, and Positive Women’s Network-USA, would bring state law in line with federal law. The bill passed both the Assembly and the Senate unanimously.
“These lifesaving surgeries have been proven safe and are now allowable under federal law,” said Sen. Allen. “There is no reason for state law to maintain an antiquated prohibition on organ donation by HIV-positive persons. By expanding the pool of organ donors, we will shorten the time for all persons on the organ donor waiting lists, and save lives in the process.”
The number of individuals in need of organ transplants far exceeds the availability of healthy organs. Yet California law criminalizes transplantation of organs and tissue from an HIV-positive donor to an HIV-positive recipient. Allowing the donation HIV-positive organs and tissue would save the lives of hundreds of HIV-positive patients each year, and shorten the waiting list for individuals awaiting transplants.
“It should not be a crime to save someone’s life, yet current law criminalizes the donation of HIV-positive organs to HIV-positive recipients,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. “There are currently HIV-positive people in California waiting desperately for an organ transplant. This is the first step in what we hope will be a number of measures to modernize California’s antiquated laws that harm and stigmatize people living with HIV. We urge Governor Brown to sign SB 1408 swiftly.”
SB 1408 is a first step towards modernizing a number of California laws that stigmatize people living with HIV by treating HIV differently than other communicable diseases. Most of these statues were enacted in the late 1980s, at a time of public panic about HIV and its transmission. Societal and medical understanding of the disease has since greatly improved, and effective treatments minimize transmission and give people living with HIV a normal lifespan. However, people living with HIV still can face felony charges, even when no real risk of transmission is present.
Equality California is working with Californians for HIV Criminalization Reform (CHCR), a coalition dedicated to modernizing California’s HIV criminal laws.
SB 1408 now goes on to the governor for his signature.