June 14, 2024

Healt Hid

Because health is very important to us

FDA urged to relax decades-old tissue donation restrictions for gay and bisexual men

3 min read
Sheryl J. Moore has been advocating for the past decade to update the rules about gay men donating tissue since she lost her eldest son, Alexander “AJ” Betts Jr., to suicide in 2013 and his corneas went to waste.
KC MCGINNIS FOR KFF HEALTH NEWS

The federal government in 2020 and 2023 changed who it said could safely donate organs and blood, reducing the restrictions on men who have had sex with another man.

But the FDA’s restrictions on donated tissue, a catchall term encompassing everything from a person’s eyes to their skin and ligaments, remain in place. Advocates, lawmakers, and groups focused on removing barriers to cornea donations, in particular, said they are frustrated the FDA hasn’t heeded their calls. They want to align the guidelines for tissue donated by gay and bisexual men with those that apply to the rest of the human body.

Such groups have been asking the FDA for years to reduce the deferral period from five years to 90 days, meaning a man who has had sex with another man would be able to donate tissue as long as such sex didn’t occur within three months of his death.



One of the loudest voices on lightening the restrictions is Sheryl J. Moore, who has been an advocate since her 16-year-old son’s death in 2013. Alexander “AJ” Betts Jr.’s internal organs were successfully donated to seven people, but his eyes were rejected because of a single question asked by the donor network: “Is AJ gay?”

Moore and a Colorado doctor named Michael Puente Jr. started a campaign called “Legalize Gay Eyes” and together got the attention of national eye groups and lawmakers.



Moore said Betts was enthusiastic about becoming an organ donor when he got his driver’s license. When he died at age 16, his heart, lungs, and liver were among the organs that helped prolong the lives of seven people, but his corneas went untouched.
KC MCGINNIS FOR KFF HEALTH NEWS

Puente, a pediatric ophthalmologist with the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado, said the current patchwork of donor guidelines is nonsensical considering advancements in the ability to test potential donors for HIV.

“A gay man can donate their entire heart for transplant, but they cannot donate just the heart valve,” said Puente, who is gay. “It’s essentially a categorical ban.”

Xander and Jackson Moore look through belongings in a room dedicated to Alexander “AJ” Betts Jr. at home in Des Moines, Iowa.
KC MCGINNIS FOR KFF HEALTH NEWS

The justification for these policies, set 30 years ago as a means of preventing HIV transmission, has been undercut by the knowledge gained through scientific progress. Now, they are unnecessary and discriminatory in that they focus on specific groups of people rather than on specific behaviors known to heighten HIV risk, according to those who advocate for changing them.

Since 2022, the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research has put changes to the tissue guidance on its agenda but has yet to act on them.

This story is from KFF Health News.


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