An HIV-positive Illinois veteran who needs a liver transplant is fighting against the federal Department of Veterans Affairs policy prohibiting organ transplants for those infected with HIV, and an Iowa City, Iowa, veterans hospital has taken steps to consider the man for the operation. Gideon Green, 57, of Monmouth, Ill., has end-stage liver disease and has been told by his doctors that a transplant is his only treatment option. But the federal VA policy prohibits organ transplants for HIV-positive patients, says agency spokeswoman Jo Schuda. The VA Medical Center in Iowa City, after receiving a complaint from the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund on Green's behalf, agreed to conduct a pretransplant health evaluation for Green to determine his fitness for the transplant surgery.
Lambda officials also wrote to national VA officials to urge them to review and change the transplant policy, which discriminates against the roughly 20,000 veterans who are infected with HIV. Schuda says the policy is being reviewed in light of new research that suggests patients with HIV may have greater transplant success than previously thought, but she noted that a change is not expected soon. She also said Green will not be given a transplant until the national policy is changed.
Jonathan Givner, a staff attorney with Lambda's AIDS Project, praised the Iowa City hospital but says the national policy must be changed soon, because more and more HIV-positive veterans are in need of organ transplants due to complications from other diseases. "The Iowa City VA hospital is fulfilling its legal and ethical obligation to patients--but nationally, the VA is not," Givner said in a press release. "The VA's misguided policy is putting the lives of national heroes in jeopardy. In the last eight years, since the advent of better treatments for people with HIV, medical experts nationwide have unanimously concluded that HIV is not a limitation on survival after transplants, and VA hospitals owe it to our nation's veterans to follow suit."
Givner also pressed the federal government to move quickly in its review of the VA transplant policy. "These patients don't have time to wait," he said. "This is truly a matter of life and death for many veterans with HIV. They deserve more than a bureaucratic brush-off from the federal government."