Mother of gay teen who committed suicide outraged at FDA ban on gay organ donation
A mother who tried to bring meaning to her gay son’s tragic suicide by having his organs donated was shocked to learn that Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations prevent gay men from donating non-lifesaving organs, The Des Moines Register reports.
Sheryl Moore’s 16-year-old son, A.J. Betts, took his own life after facing years of being bullied for being openly gay. She kept his body alive for four days after he was declared brain dead specifically so his oxygen-deprived organs could recuperate enough to be viable for transplants. His heart, lungs, and kidneys were all eventually harvested for transplantation, but his bone, tendons, heart valves, and eyes were not.
When she asked the Iowa Donor Network why those organs had not been harvested, she was told it was because of an FDA policy barring sexually active gay men from donating non-lifesaving organs.
“I’ve heard that people can donate their eyes,” Moore recalled telling the Iowa Donor Network, “and I was just wondering whether there was a reason A.J.’s eyes weren’t donated to somebody. The folks immediately responded to me, ‘Yeah, that’s because he’s gay.'”
“I would have loved to look into his eyes again,” she added, “even if they were inside someone else’s head.”
In an email to the Register, FDA spokeswoman Jennifer Rodriguez wrote that the “FDA’s regulation of tissues…establishes layers of safeguards that are meant to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis, through donated tissue.”
The FDA specifies that men who have had sex with another man in the past five years are not eligible to donate non-lifesaving organs due to the risk of HIV and hepatitis B. Because Moore did not know the specifics of her son’s sexual history, his non-lifesaving organs could not be donated.
“I mean, he was 16. I never even saw him hold hands. I never heard him say he had a boyfriend. But I couldn’t rule it out completely,” she told the Register. “It didn’t make any sense to me at all. This is an archaic regulation, and it’s completely discriminatory. I never planned on becoming a gay rights activist, but I guess I am now.”
A spokesman for the Iowa Donor Network, Tony Hakes, agreed with Moore, calling the FDA regulations “an archaic policy” and calling for the guidelines — which were established at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, when screening for HIV was more difficult because available tests could only identify the retrovirus 45 days after infection — to be revised.
Watch an interview with Sheryl Moore via The Des Moines Register below.