House committee OKs two bills reforming organ donations for those with disabilities or HIV

House Health Policy Chair Bronna Kahle at the May 27, 2021 hearing | Screenshot

The Michigan House of Representatives Health Policy Committee on Thursday discussed and voted on bills pertaining to organ donation and transplant policy. One bill aims to help HIV-positive organ donors and recipients, while the other increases access for individuals with disabilities to organ transplants. 

House Bill 4521, otherwise known as the The HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act, introduced by Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield) enables HIV-positive organs to be donated when the recipient is also HIV positive. The bill also amends organ transplant procedures to have each organ tested for HIV positivity or HIV antibodies. In the case the test cannot be conducted in time, the recipient will be notified that the organ has not been able to be tested in time. 

The HOPE Act has been passed in 19 other states and the District of Columbia. The bill has received bipartisan support, with the 32 House members co-sponsoring the bill. 

Under current law, HIV-positive transplant recipients can receive HIV-negative organs. The HOPE Act, as introduced by Brabec, would enable HIV-positive donors to donate to HIV-positive recipients and, in turn, allow negative recipients to receive organs from strictly negative donors. 

While introducing the bill at the hearing, Brabec emphasized the importance of expanding organ transplant donations for HIV-positive donors and recipients in order to increase life expectancy and quality of life for HIV positive individuals. 

“As Michiganders, we should want to do this and do this for our residents and their families and extend life,” said Brabec. “HIV is not obviously what we thought of before as a death sentence …. which is wonderful. If we can improve that even more, that’s just another no-brainer to me.”

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The HOPE Act would likely enable Gift of Life, Michigan’s organ and tissue donation program, to harvest roughly six to nine organs each year. 

The bill passed in the committee unanimously and will be sent to the House floor. 

House Bill 4762, introduced by Rep. Bronna Kahle (R-Adrian), chair of the House Health Policy Committee, prohibits any transplant recipients with physical and mental disabilities from being discriminated against. 

Although it is illegal to deny people with mental and physical disabilities from receiving an organ transplant under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), many organ transplant centers disregard the law. In fact, 44% of organ transplant centers stated they would not allow children with neurological disabilities to be added onto the organ transplant list while 85% of centers also said they may weigh whether a child has a disability or not in their decision to place them on the transplant list. 

Currently, Michigan has no law that prohibits those with mental or physical disabilities from being denied an organ transplant. 

In a statement, Kahle discussed the need for legislation to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities from receiving an organ transplant. 

“Organ transplantation gives thousands of children and adults a renewed chance at living full and active lives,” said Kahle. “Discrimination against any person with a disability is ethically wrong, and quite frankly, appalling. All persons have equal value. We need to make sure those living with disabilities receive the same opportunities for services and life-saving measures as anyone else.”

The bill passed in the committee unanimously and will be sent to the House floor.