updated 7/15/2004 6:54:50 PM ET 2004-07-15T22:54:50

Illinois on Thursday became the first state with a law specifically allowing HIV-infected people to donate organs to others with the virus. But before such donations can take place, federal rules will have to change.

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Currently, organs from HIV-infected patients are discarded to prevent them from being transplanted into uninfected patients and spreading the AIDS virus.

But those organs could prolong the lives of people who already have HIV, many of whom are living longer because of advances in medicine, said Dr. Patrick Lynch, a liver specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital who helped write the legislation signed Thursday by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

“When those laws were originally put on the books, they made sense. HIV was, unfortunately, a death sentence back then,” Lynch said. “That doesn’t make sense anymore.”

HIV patients in need of a transplant have to wait, along with other patients, for organs from healthy donors.

'Expanding the base of potential donors'
“What this law allows is expanding the base of potential donors,” said Rep. Larry McKeon, a Democrat from Chicago who has HIV.

But first, Illinois officials will have to work with the United Network for Organ Sharing — which coordinates the nation’s organ transplant system for the government — to change U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regulations.

Proponents of the Illinois law hope it will prompt other states to help pressure officials to make that change.

Opponents worry there are not enough controls to prevent infected organs from accidentally being given to someone who does not have HIV.

The Illinois State Medical Society unsuccessfully sought the insertion of language protecting doctors from liability if the virus is accidentally transmitted during surgery.

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