A surgeon prepares to extract donated organs in Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore (AFP/Getty)
A surgeon prepares to extract donated organs in Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Getty

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has refused to accept eyes donated by a dead teenager, because he was gay.

Alexander Betts Jr, 16, took his own life last year after being bullied at school. His heart, lungs and kidneys were donated to help other patients.

But owing to what Bett's mother Sheryl has called "archaic and completely outdated" regulations, his eyes were rejected by the FDA.

Under FDA rules created in the 1980s in response to the AIDS crisis, body tissue donations from "men who have had sex with another man in the preceding five years" cannot be accepted.

Bett's organs were able to be donated because their donation is regulated by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which does not prohibit donations from gay men.

"I understand why the regulation was created over 30 years ago, but it no longer applies, because they took his heart, they took his lungs, they took his liver and his kidneys. Why couldn't they take his eyes?" Moore, of Pleasant Hill, Iowa, told VICE News.

Federal organ ban

FDA spokeswoman Jennifer Rodriguez told the website that because there is a greater demand for organs than tissues, the rules governing their donation differ.

Prior to donation, the HRSA conducts tests on the donor for a number of infectious diseases, to minimise the risk of diseases being passed on to organ recipients.

The FDA rules regarding eye donations reflect its guidelines on blood donation.

"The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science," said American Medical Association (AMA) board member Dr. William Kobler, after the body voted to overturn the ban last year.

Glenn Cohen, a bioethics law professor at the Harvard Law School, wrote that the US should repeal the rules about blood.

"We think it's time for the FDA to take a serious look at this 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," he told CBS.

He noted that while gay men are banned from life, men who have had sex with a HIV positive woman are only banned from donating blood for a year.