Over a year ago, doctors disconnected Sheryl Moore's 16-year-old son from life support after his attempted suicide caused irreversible damage that he'd never survive. Her son, Alexander "AJ" Betts, chose to end has life as a result of being bullied by classmates who outed him as gay a year and half earlier.
Months before his suicide, the Iowa teen signed on to become an organ donor. But recently, Moore learned her son's last wish was not fully granted simply because of what many say is an antiquated policy enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Under the agency's regulations, created decades ago at the height of the AIDS epidemic, gay men are not permitted to donate blood and certain types of human tissue, which potentially could carry HIV and are therefore considered too risky for the donor recipient. Under the FDA's guidelines, donations by men who have had sex with men anytime since 1977 -- when the AIDS epidemic began -- aren't accepted.
Moore received a letter that informed her of what became of her son's organs. Though his kidneys, liver, heart and lungs all had recipients, his eyes could not be used, the letter said.
"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 told Des Moines CBS affiliate KCCI.
"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," she said.
In recent years, the gay activist community and many medical authorities have called for changes to the law, which they say is not scientifically based, and discriminatory since heterosexuals who have had sex with an HIV-positive person and also commercial sex workers need only to wait a year to donate. Additionally, organizations such as the Red Cross say the guidelines block access to potentially life-saving medical resources.
Today's technology allows for detection of HIV in blood as soon as a few weeks after exposure. Therefore experts say that changing the lifetime ban to six months or a year would still be prudent. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services currently is reviewing prior studies on the rates of transfusion-transmitted infections as well as new options for screening gay men which may help support changes to the policy.