The FDA has pushed to relax decades-old tissue donation restrictions for gay and bisexual men

Sheryl J. Moore has been advocating to update the rules on gay men’s tissue donation for the past decade since she lost her eldest son, Alexander “AJ” Betts Jr., to suicide and his corneas in 2013.

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

But the FDA’s restrictions on donated tissue, an umbrella term that includes everything from a person’s eyes to skin and ligaments, remain in effect. Advocates, lawmakers and groups focused on removing barriers to corneal donations say they are frustrated that the FDA has not heeded their calls. They want to bring the guidelines for tissue donated by gay and bisexual men into line with the guidelines that apply to the rest of the human body.

Such groups have been asking the FDA for years to reduce the grace period from five years to 90 days, meaning a man who has had sex with another man could donate tissue as long as such sex did not occur within three months of birth. are dead.

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

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

Moore said Betts was excited to become 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 extend the lives of seven people, but his corneas were left untouched.

Puente, a pediatric ophthalmologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado, said the current patchwork of donor guidelines makes no sense given advances in the ability to test potential donors for HIV.

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

Xander and Jackson Moore search through belongings in a room dedicated to Alexander “AJ” Betts Jr. at home in Des Moines, Iowa.

The justification for this policy was established 30 years ago as a means of preventing the transmission of HIV has been undermined by the knowledge gained through scientific advances. Now they are unnecessary and discriminatory because they target specific groups of people rather than specific behaviors known to increase HIV risk, according to those calling for their change.

Since 2022, the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research has been planning changes to the tissue guidelines but has yet to take action on it.

This story comes from KFF Health News.