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Teen’s Eye Donation Rejected due to his Sexual Orientation

Update Date: Aug 18, 2014 10:58 AM EDT

The last wish that 16-year-old, Alexander "AJ" Betts Jr. had before his untimely death was to become an organ donor. Betts' wish was only partially fulfilled. Due to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Donor-Eligibility Determination for certain tissues, Betts' eyes were rejected because he was gay.

Betts' mother, Sheryl Moore, stated that she felt anger after learning that her son's eyes were not eligible for donation simply due to his sexual orientation. Betts died shortly after attempting to commit suicide in July 2013. According to his mother, the teen had been outed as gay around a year and a half prior to his death. He was bullied for being gay, being half African-American and for having a cleft lip.

"He's different. He doesn't add up to what they're used to," Noah Lahmann, Betts' best friend, had said to KCCI.

Betts' wish to donate his organs was only partly fulfilled. His kidneys, liver, lungs and heart were all donated to patients. However, since the FDA's guidance states that "men who have sex with another man in the preceding five years should" be "ineligible" for donating certain tissues, Betts' eyes were rejected when his mother could not definitively answer the question regarding her son's sexual activity.

"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. "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."

According to the FDA, certain tissues taken from gay men who had been sexually active for the past five years can increase the recipient's chance of being exposed to infectious disease, such as HIV. The FDA also bans blood donations from men who sleep with other men.

"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 agency had said according to the Washington Post.

Many critics have stated that the FDA's policy, which was created during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic when people believed that gay men were responsible for the deadly virus, is discriminatory. One expert, Glenn Cohen, a bioethics law professor at the Harvard Law School, wrote in a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that the policy is outdated. Cohen added that the policy is contradictory because it allows men who have slept with HIV-positive women to donate blood after a one-year ban.

Last year, the American Medical Association voted to end the lifelong ban on blood donations by homosexual people. The FDA responded by stating that it will "consider new approached to donor screening and testing." However, the agency has not been too clear about their policies regarding donations.

For more information on the FDA's policy, click here.

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