An Iowa teen’s recent suicide has sparked a debate over the Food and Drug Administration’s regulation on organ donation with regard to gay and bisexual men.
Alexander “AJ” Betts Jr., a 16-year-old teen from Des Moines, Iowa attempted suicide in July 2013 and died shortly after. Per his request, Betts’ heart was donated, but his eyes were rejected as a result of the FDA’s policy on gay organ donors. The policy states that men who have had sex with men (MSM) within the last five years pose a “risk factor,” most commonly associated with HIV, and are ineligible for donation.
The FDA’s guidelines are based on statistics that attribute the highest rates of HIV/AIDS to MSM. However, according to the Center for American Progress (CAP), an independent research and advocacy organization, 43,200 people in the U.S. need blood transfusions and 18 people die every day waiting for an organ donation. Understandably, the CAP is critical of the FDA’s donor policies, stating they are discriminatory.
Though the FDA claims it does not intend for policies to appear discriminatory, they promote homophobic prejudices and encourage adverse views of a disease that was once referred to as gay-related immune deficiency, also known as GRID.
Though the policy permits some organ donations, blood donations are currently not accepted from gay men. Thi s is discrimination that puts gay men under far more stringent restrictions than those placed on others who are considered to be of “high risk.”
While gay men are prohibited from lifelong blood donation, heterosexuals who have sexual contact with an injection drug user are prohibited from donation for only 12 months.
AJ Betts is one of many gay and bisexual men who have been denied the right to donate organs simply because of their sexual orientations. Rohn Neugebauer, a 48-year-old man who died of a heart attack earlier this year, dedicated his time to raise thousands of dollars for an organ donation organization. After his death, however, Neugebauer’s sister was informed that he was ineligible to donate any of his organs as a result of his lifestyle.
Neugebauer’s partner Daniel Burda is campaiging to have the regulations amended and have the FDA concentrate on testing and screening all donors equally, a solution that the CAP proposes as well.
More focus should be placed on evaluating donors individually, promoting frequent testing within at-risk communities and developing more efficient preventative measures.
As science and technology advance, so should the primitive regulations that are wasting countless viable organs and stigmatizing groups of individuals based on generalized views of a disease. Better education and more awareness of the HIV/AIDS virus, combined with preventative measures in donor testing, are the best way to decrease infection rates among all people and potentially eliminate bad policies such as those enforced by the FDA.
Brandon Shaik is a senior majoring in psychology.