Sadly, the life of Alexander “AJ” Betts Jr. was too short and often painful. Born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, AJ endured several surgeries as a child to correct the problem, which include facial reconstruction. After coming out at his school in school, he was bullied, both for being gay and mixed race. Apparently, it became too much for AJ to endure. Last year, he committed suicide. He was just 16.
The only solace that his mother, Sheryl Moore, had was that AJ had decided several months before that he wanted to be an organ donor. “He spent his entire life trying to make people feel good,” Moore said.
Then the FDA stepped in.
The government agency was okay to have AJ’s heart, lungs, kidneys and liver transplanted. But not his eyes. The reason: AJ was gay.
“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 KCCI.
The agency wanted to know AJ’s sexual history. Had he had sex with another male any time in the past five years? Moore couldn’t confirm her son’s sexual activity, so Moore’s corneas weren’t used to help another person.
The FDA is still governed by guidelines established at the very beginning of the AIDS epidemic during the Reagan era, a time when the government was not notably gay-friendly. By contrast, heterosexuals can have slept with a sex worker or with someone known to be HIV-positive and be able to donate organs after just one year.
Blood donations are even worse, with a ban on any man who has had sex with another man even once since 1977. How much overkill is this? The standard test to detect HIV in blood donations can find the presence of the virus within four-and-a-half days of infection.
The FDA continues to defend the indefensible, despite a call from the American Medical Association to change the policy on blood donations.
The approval of some of AJ’s organs for use but not his eyes underscores just how mindless the policy is. It’s impossible to conjure up a scientific reason as to why his eyes would be more likely to cause an HIV infection than his internal organs.
Meanwhile, another 14-year-old boy is alive because of AJ. The boy received AJ’s heart. “He would have really liked that,” Moore said.
Too bad someone else couldn’t have had their vision saved due to the FDA’s shortsightedness.
Photo credit: AJ Betts’ Facebook page