An Iowa teen’s eyes were rejected for donation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the 16-year-old was gay. Alexander “AJ” Bett committed suicide in June, 2013, after coming out as gay approximately 18 months earlier. The teen had reportedly been viciously bullied before taking his life, but just before he did Bett enrolled as an organ donor.
Bett’s heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver were accepted and successfully transplanted to patients that needed them. His eyes were not accepted, as the FDA has different regulations for eyes, which are considered tissue. Although organs are accepted, tissue and blood from gay men are not accepted for donation, which is why the FDA approved the donation of Bett’s other organs.
Bett’s mother, Sheryl Moore, was shocked when she found out her son’s eyes were not accepted for donation due to his sexual orientation. When interviewed by a local news station Moore stated “this is archaic.” She went on to tell KCCI “it is just silly that people wouldn’t get the life-saving assistance they need because of regulations that are 30 years old.”
After Bett’s passing Moore was asked a series of routine questions that are asked anytime a donor passes away. One of those questions was whether Bett had been sexually active with another man in the five years prior to his death. His mother could not honestly answer the question, as she did not know for sure, which is why the teen’s eyes were not accepted for donation.
Moore was upset that her teen son’s eyes were rejected for donation due to him being gay. She said that he always wanted to help others, even in the difficult time leading up to his untimely death when people targeted him. Bett’s desire to help others is what made him decide to become an organ donor just before his death.
The mother told the Des Moines Register “it’s the most painful thing I have ever been through in my entire life,” referring to her son’s death. Additionally, she told them that the teen had been bullied for being gay, having a cleft lip and for being half black. One of the teen’s friends told reporters that his friend was constantly made fun of because he was different from the other kids. He went on to say that the kids looked for anything they could possibly make fun of him for, and when he came out as a gay man the bullying got worse.
The FDA was questioned about the situation and told a reporter that the regulation banning gay men from donating tissue and blood had nothing to do with discrimination. The regulation has been in place since 1977 and bans gay men from donating blood or tissue if they have engaged in same-sex intercourse within the five years preceding their death.
People disagree with the ban, as it only asks about heterosexual sex with someone HIV positive within one year prior to donating organs or tissue. This seems contradictory to those who oppose the regulation, it is said to be in place to prevent a donor from passing HIV on to a patient receiving their organs, blood, or tissue. Moore feels that the FDA is discriminating against her dead son by rejecting the donation of the teen’s eyes because he was gay.
By Amy Gilmore