After suffering a horrific car crash last month, New Zealander Corey Eteveneaux was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. He died four days later, but his family’s grief turned to outrage when they learned Eteveneaux’s heart valves and corneas couldn’t be accepted for donation because he was gay.
In New Zealand, men who have sex with other men are excluded from donating blood or tissue for 12 months, regardless of their sexual behavior or safe-sex practices.
“I spoke with a woman from Organ Donation NZ and initially I thought she wanted to speak to me about Corey’s tattoos and when the last time was he had work done,” Eteveneaux’s mother, Cherie, told Stuff. “Instead she told me they couldn’t take Corey’s heart valves or corneas because of his lifestyle. Eventually she said it was because he’s a homosexual man.”
Eteveneaux, 24, had been dating 29-year-old Daniel Jacobs for nearly two years. According to Cherie, the two were tested for HIV when they began dating and both were negative.
“Corey was a fit, healthy young man and I thought his heart valves would have been snapped up,” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense. There are people who are suffering out there and we could have potentially helped them.”
“I know Corey would have loved to have helped someone,” he added, “but some poor family has lost out.”
Jacobs said the rejection is all the more upsetting as he is still processing the loss of his partner.
“I can’t see why we as homosexual men need to be discriminated against for what we do behind closed doors,” he said. “We’re still humans, we’re no different to any people walking down the street.”
Regulations for tissue donation are stricter than for organ donation, the belief being it’s life-enhancing, rather than life-saving. (In New Zealand, gay men are allowed to donate organs.) Previously, men who had sex with other men couldn’t donate tissue or blood for 10 years. That period was lowered to five years in 2008, and then 12 months in 2014.
Richard Charlewood of the New Zealand Blood Service says the criteria aren’t about targeting gay men, but about excluding those involved in high-risk activities. Despite the availability of accurate HIV testing, there is still a window of several months in which the virus might not show up.
Charlewood said another review of the regulations is planned for some time the next few years.
“We do take into account that this is a sensitive issue,” he added. “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.”