The Right to Donate

gayflagImagine for a moment that you are the parent of a gay child who has tragically taken their own life due to the discrimination and hatred of others.  Adding to your heartbreak and dismay, you find out that your child is still being discriminated against even after their death.  Sadly, this has become the harsh reality that Iowa mother, Sheryl Moore, must face.  Moore told the Des Moines Register that her son, Alexander Betts’s, death is “the most painful thing I have ever been through in my entire life…I would not wish that on my worst enemy.”  She said that her son, “spent his entire life trying to make people feel good.”  Due to a 30 year old ruling by the Food and Drug Administration, homosexual men like her son are prohibited from donating different types of tissue.  This ruling proves to be extremely discriminatory against homosexual individuals and goes against the ideology and commonplace view that all people have the right to be donors.  Healthy organs and tissues from any donor should never be discarded if they can save or improve the life of another human being.

Moore’s 16 year old son, Alexander Betts attempted suicide at his home in Pleasant Hill in July 2013 and remained on life support until damages to his organs could be repaired for donation. Betts tried to end his own life after relentlessly being teased by peers at Southeast Polk High School for being half African, having a cleft lip, and for coming out as a homosexual.  His heart, lungs, kidney, and liver were accepted by the FDA and transplanted into patients that needed them but because the deceased teen was gay, the FDA would not accept his eyes.  Even though several of Betts’s other organs were used, his eyes could not be accepted as they are regarded as tissue.  Because Betts’s mother couldn’t say for sure if her son had sexual relations with another man during the five years prior to his suicide, his eyes were discarded.  Not knowing whether he had sex with another man during those five years shouldn’t even matter since this article by Slate notes that donors are screened for HIV before organs can even be harvested.  Furthermore, why should the FDA be worried about the boy’s eyes being potentially ridden with HIV, when his heart was accepted and successfully transplanted into a 14 year old boy?  According to Jezebel, the FDA claims that men who have sex with other men are a risk factor for transmittable diseases.  Yet, anybody who has sex with another person could be a risk factor for the same types of diseases.  There are major contradictions and inconsistencies in the FDA’s old rulings.  Even though gay men are banned from donating tissue if they have had sex in the last five years, the FDA will “allow donations from heterosexuals who have slept with an HIV-positive person or commercial sex worker after one year.”

Even more appalling is the 1983 ruling that bans a man who has ever had sex with another man from ever being able to donate blood.  Director of Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics, Glenn Cohen, states “We think it’s time for the FDA to take a serious look at its policy, because it’s out of step with peer countries, it’s out of step with modern medicine, it’s out of step with public opinion, and we feel it may be legally problematic.”  According to CBS News, other countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, and South Africa have already changed their ban on blood donations from homosexual and bisexual individuals and have not seen any harmful results since enacting the change.  On their website, the FDA wrote that their “…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.”  Dr. Steven Kleinman, senior medical advisor to the AABB, an international non-profit blood back association reasons that, “current technology allows accurate detection of HIV in the bloodstream within weeks of exposure…changing the ban to six months or a year remains a conservative approach that still allows officials to prevent contamination of the blood supply.”

Not only are these rulings contradictory and discriminatory, they take us back to a time in history when hatred towards gays were at an all time high.  This horrid ruling came into existence during the AIDS epidemic at a time when little was known about the disease and there were no tests to detect HIV in someone’s blood.  Even with new technology and constant advancements in healthcare, this 30 year old ruling continues to hold us back from the progress we have fought so hard to achieve.  Slate says that, “here in America, gay men’s bodies are still seen as blighted, dangerous, and infected.”   At this day in age, there is no real reason for people to believe that all homosexual males are carriers of HIV or AIDS.  According to aids.gov, all organ and tissue donors are screened for risk factors, and tested for HIV and other infectious agents that potentially could be transmitted through transplantation.

Betts’s mom Sheryl Moore says, “This is archaic, and it is just silly that people wouldn’t get the lifesaving assistance they need because of regulations that are 30 years old.”  I couldn’t agree more after seeing the alarming statistics.  According to organdonor.gov, there are 123,239 people waiting for organ and tissue donations, 18 people will die each day waiting for an organ, and 1 organ donor can save up to 8 lives.  The American Red Cross also notes that 1 pint of blood can save up to 3 lives.  Not allowing homosexual men to donate certain tissues and blood alienates and prevents them from giving back to the rest of the community.  Moore said that her son “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.” These facts show why healthy blood, organs, and tissues, should be accepted by all people no matter what their sexual orientation is.  These transplants are life altering for recipients and gives people the chance to save other people’s lives.

Current FDA laws need to be changed so that healthy tissue and blood can be donated by homosexuals or bisexuals.  These laws should no longer be adopted as they are discriminatory and unprogressive as seen in my examples.  Laws like these take away life changing opportunities for potential recipients and keep people’s wishes to help others unfulfilled.  This issue should be of great importance to all of us because it has the potential to affect us at any given moment.  Everyone should have the right to give back and potentially save lives.  There may also come a point in each of our lives when we need an organ, tissue, or blood donation.  Taking healthy donations from bisexuals or homosexuals likens our chances of receiving the help we need.  If a homosexual man with the same rare blood type as you is unable to donate their blood, you could be put in a life or death situation.  We must realize that life is to precious to have these types of restrictions.

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