Should we allow organ transplants from HIV positive donors?

Xavier Symons
7 June 2014
Reproduced with Permission

In a controversial article in the Journal of Medical Ethics three Israeli bioethicists defend the restricted use of organ transplants from HIV positive patients. The authors, from leading academies in Israel, argue that there are times when it would be ethically permissible for doctors to transplant organs from HIV positive individuals to uninfected recipients. They write:

"If the potential recipient demonstrates full awareness of the risks of receiving an organ from an HIV-positive donor, he or she has the right via the principle of autonomy to accept those risks along with the potential life-saving benefits... to deny patients the right to take on the risk of HIV, when transplantation is the best and often the only recourse available to them, would then be a unique limit on autonomy."

Under US FDA organ transplant regulations, Individuals known to be carrying HIV may not donate their organs.

The authors consider the case of organ donors infected with the potentially fatal cytomegalovirus (CMV). Organ transplants are permitted from CMV carriers, despite the demonstrated higher rates of mortality in recipients. In the USA there are currently over 118,000 candidates on waiting lists for organs. It is estimated that fewer than 30,000 organ transplants were performed in 2013.