A New Zealand mother was left “shocked and confused” after she was told her late son’s blood and organ tissue couldn’t be donated because he was gay.
Cherie Eteveneaux had hoped to donate part of her 24-year-old son Corey’s tissue, such as heart valves and corneas, to help others after Corey (pictured) sustained severe injuries in a car accident and the decision was made to turn off his life support.
“They were rejected because he was homosexual,” Eteveneaux told news.com.au.
“The heart valves are used in young babies, and I thought Corey would’ve liked the idea of donating them, so that’s what we were going to do.
“But then to be told, ‘No, sorry, because he’s homosexual’… It was a shock and I was confused and pretty angry.”
In New Zealand, men who have sex with other men are excluded from donating blood or tissue for 12 months.
Dr Richard Charlewood, New Zealand Blood Service’s tissue bank medical director, told Stuff.co.nz that the exclusion criteria don’t target gay men but exclude those involved in high-risk activities.
Despite the latest technology, a “window period” exists when testing may not be able to detect HIV in a person during the virus’ early stages, he said.
“We do take into account that this is a sensitive issue,” he said.
“Where we do have the evidence and science behind it, we do cut these time frames down. If we do relax the criteria we have to be sure we’re not increasing the risk to the recipient.
“First and foremost this is about the safety of the recipients who have no choice in it.”
Australia has a similar 12-month ban on donating blood for men who have sex with men.
“Scientific modelling shows that overall, even men in a declared exclusive gay relationship have, on average, a 50 times greater risk of HIV infection, compared to heterosexual Australians with a new sexual partner,” the Australian Red Cross explains on their website.
“The Blood Service is not discriminating against anyone based on their sexuality; rather the policies are based on assessment of risk.
“Deferrals are in place for a number of potential donors who may be more likely to be exposed to infection or present other risks to the recipient.”
Ms Eteveneaux said she felt the deferral period was discriminating against gay men.
“I thought we as a country [had] moved forward [from] saying HIV is a gay disease,” she said.
“Corey was a fit, healthy young man and I thought his heart valves would have been snapped up. It just doesn’t make sense.
“There are people who are suffering out there and we could have potentially helped them.”
In 2013, the Australian Red Cross recommended the deferral period be reduced from 12 to six months, but this was rejected by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Gay rights advocate Frances Arns, who is executive director of New Zealand LGBTIQ group RainbowYouth, called the 12-month deferral period “ridiculous”.
“Within two to three months you can tell that you’ve got HIV. It just kind of signals that this is driven by homophobia,” she said.
“Remove the reference to gender and sexuality. If you’ve have unprotected sex in the last three months and you’re not sure what your status is, then you shouldn’t really donate.”