U.S. News


Teen's Organ Donation Denied Because He Was Gay

After a 16-year-old boy committed suicide, his organs were donated. His eyes, however, were rejected due to decades-old FDA regulations aimed at gay men.
Posted at 11:59 AM, Aug 16, 2014

A 16-year-old Iowa boy who took his own life had signed up to be an organ donor just six months before he died.

SHERYL MOORE: "Even in his death AJ is continuing to give. ... And so I've been in a hospital room with my son for almost three days now he's been dead ... he's on a bunch of machines being pumped full a bunch of medicines to get his organs healthy to give to numerous other people." 

According to AJ Betts' family, he was horribly bullied at school for being mixed race — black and white, for having had a cleft lip and for his sexual orientation after he was outed as gay.

AJ's mom, ​Sheryl Moore, said even through the bullying, AJ to want to help others. Soon after his death last month, she recieved a letter saying what had become of her son's organs — and as it turned out, AJ's wish was not fully granted.  

Although his heart and other organs were able to save lives, AJ's eyes were rejected because he was gay. 

That's due to this Food And Drug Administration regulation, created decades ago. It says any donor believed to have a risk for communicable diseases, like HIV, can not donate his or her eyes along with other tissue, specially pointing to men who have sex with other men. 

Moore could not confirm whether AJ was sexually active, so he was deemed ineligible. But the ban doesn't just stop at tissues.   

"Gay men are banned for life from donating blood. She believes it's a regulation that needs updating. The FDA does allow donations from heterosexuals who have slept with an HIV positive person ... after one year. ... experts says that's a contradiction." 

Experts like Glenn Cohen, a director at Harvard Law School. He told HealthDay, "We think it's time for the FDA to take a serious look at its policy, because it's out of step with peer countries, it's out of step with modern medicine, it's out of step with public opinion, and we feel it may be legally problematic." 

This is how the FDA explains its regulation. "FDA's deferral policy is based on the documented increased risk of certain transfusion transmissible infections, such as HIV, associated with male-to-male sex and is not based on any judgment concerning the donor's sexual orientation."

But there are efforts to try and change that policy by various medical groups who say the FDA's policy is discriminatory. 

AJ's mother says she had hopes of again one day looking into the eyes of her son and calls the regulations "archaic."