Bullied Teen’s Organ Donation Denied Because He Was Gay
Alexander “A.J.” Betts Jr., a 16-year-old from Pleasant Hills, Iowa, committed suicide in 2013 after dealing with bullying and ridicule over his sexual orientation. But, as common as that story is, this isn’t what this post is about. This is about the discrimination A.J. endured after his death…from the FDA. Before his death, A.J. made the pragmatic decision to become an organ donor. But due to the fact that he was gay, not all of his organs could be accepted. This is a hold over rule from the late 1980’s/ early 90’s when HIV was little understood and was a serious issue in the gay community. Because of this outdated guideline, A.J. was able to donate some of his organs, but not his eyes.
Sheryl Moore, A.J.’s mother, is understandably devastated. According to The Washington Post‘s article about the situation from yesterday:
â€œMy initial feeling was just very angry because I couldn’t understand why my 16-year-old sonâ€™s eyes couldn’t be donated just because he was gay.Â â€œThis is archaic and it is just silly that people wouldn’t get the life-saving assistance they need because of regulations that are 30 years old.â€
According to theÂ FDA’s donor eligibility guidelines, men who have had sex with other men in the preceding five years have an increased risk for communicable diseases and are therefore deferred from donating soft tissue organs (like the eyes). Gay men are completelyÂ barred from donating blood. From the FDA:
â€œFDAâ€™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 donorâ€™s sexual orientation.â€
These guidelines might be based on documented evidence, but this evidence is outdated and the rule is now arbitrary and discriminatory. Glen Cohen, a bioethics law professor from Harvard, recently advocated repealing these guidelines in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He also told CBS:
â€œWe think itâ€™s time for the FDA to take a serious look at this policy, because itâ€™s out of step with peer countries, itâ€™s out of step with modern medicine, itâ€™s out of step with public opinion, and we feel it may be legally problematic.”
Cohen goes on to point out that the FDA even contradicts itself. Men who have sex with HIV positive women are only banned from donating for a year.
Last year even the American Medical Association voted to end the ban. According to AMA board member William Kobler:
â€œThe lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science.â€
I think it’s ridiculous that even if the recipient is willing to sign a waiver, they cannot benefit from a person’s generous organ donation simply because that person is a gay man. Hopefully high profile cases like A.J. will help to change the FDA’s stance on the issue.