Thanks to antiquated FDA guidelines, part of a gay teen's organ donation was rejected after he died by suicide, leaving the dying wish of Alexander "A.J." Betts Jr. partially unfulfilled. The FDA regulations currently bar tissue and blood donations from men who have had sex with other men. Yup, this is 2014.
Betts attempted suicide on a Friday night in July 2013. Days later, he was taken off life support, which he was kept on to repair damaged organs so that, per Betts' request, they could be donated. While recipients were found for his heart, liver, kidneys, and lungs, his eyes were rejected due to a guideline that many critics believe is outdated.
Betts was a victim of intense bullying — the fifth student to die by suicide in five years at his high school in Iowa. His friends said that he was targeted for his sexual orientation, being mixed-race, and a cleft lip that he'd had from birth. His mother, Sheryl Moore, told KCCI that he was outed a year and a half before his death.
"Everyone got along with my son very well until they found out he was gay," Moore told KCCI.
Moore could not confirm to doctors if her son had or had not been sexually active in the last five years, which she learned in a letter made his eyes and tissues ineligible for donation.
The current regulations say that if a man has not had sex with another man in the last five years, they are ineligible to donate tissue, which critics (and everyone) say is an unnecessary ban. The FDA has also been criticized for its total ban on blood donations from gay men, which was put into place in 1983 during the height of the AIDS crisis in the U.S. HIV risks aside, the policy is clearly discriminatory. While any man that has ever had sex with another man will never be eligible to donate blood, there is currently only a one-year window in which a man who has had sex with an HIV-positive woman cannot serve as a donor.
"This 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," Moore told KCCI.
Betts' selfless last act may have saved lives, but it's time to revisit some of the policies that would prevent altruism from being able to reach its full potential.
Images: Screenshot/KCCI (2)