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Should a 16-Year-Old’s Organ Donation Be Rejected Because He is Gay?

In July 2013, 16-year-old  Iowa teen Alexander Betts attempted suicide after being bullied at school for being gay.

Hoping to turn her heartbreak into helping others, his mom Sheryl Moore decided to do what she knew her son wanted.

So she asked that Betts, an otherwise healthy teen, be allowed to become an organ donor.

At first, it was good news. A 14-year-old was able to benefit from Betts’ heart. Soon his other organs – his liver, lungs, and kidneys – were all matched with potential recipients.

Then, Moore found out that Betts’ eyes had been rejected for transplant because he was gay.

“My initial feeling was just very angry because I couldn’t understand why my 16-year-old son’s eyes couldn’t be donated just because he was gay,” Moore said, according to a  KCCI report, stressing it hurt to know her son was being pegged as different and rejected even in death.

The decision to reject his eyes for transplant was based on a longstanding FDA policy that prohibits men who have sex with other men from donating blood.

“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,” the FDA said of the policy that was enacted in the middle of the AIDS crisis.

While the rules on people who are gay donating organs is much less clear, the organization facilitating the transplantation of Betts’ eyes decided to reject the donation because his mom could not say for certain if he had ever had sex with another male.

The organization handling his other organs, though, did not make the same choice, citing that the recipient is informed of the risks and signs a consent allowing their use.

Betts’ mother said that she thinks it is time for the rule to change entirely to avoid such different interpretations and is now speaking out against the discriminatory policy.

“This is archaic,” Moore told KCCI. “And it is just silly that people wouldn’t get the life-saving assistance they need because of regulations that are 30 years old.”

Glenn Cohen, a bioethics law professor at the Harvard Law School, agreed. “We think it’s time for the FDA to take a serious look at this 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,” he said in an interview with CBS.

Photo Credit: KCCI

About the author

Tamar is a New York based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in over 15 publications. You can catch her work regularly on Issue Hawk, Latest, Jspace, and MediaGlobal.