When Corey Eteveneaux died, he couldn’t donate tissue because he was gay.
When Corey Eteveneaux died, he couldn’t donate tissue because he was gay.

‘Doesn’t make sense’: Corey’s gift in death rejected

WHEN Cherie Eteveneaux​ was forced to switch off her son Corey's life support earlier this year, she hoped either his blood, tissue or organs would be donated to help someone else in need.

At 24, her son - who had been involved in a car accident in February - was fit and healthy. But the injuries he'd sustained in the accident were so severe, doctors were unable to save him.

Mrs Eteveneaux, from Taupo in New Zealand, hoped she could pass on parts of her son to save someone else. While his organs couldn't be used due to the nature of his death, she hoped Corey's tissues such as heart valves and corneas could be used - but she was told she wasn't able to offer them because he was gay.

"They were rejected because he was homosexual," Mrs 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' - well, it was a shock and I was confused and pretty angry."

When Corey died, he wasn’t able to be a tissue donor because he was gay.
When Corey died, he wasn’t able to be a tissue donor because he was gay.

In Australia, similar regulations apply for the donation of blood and tissue. According to the Australian Red Cross, if a man has had oral or anal sex with another man, he is unable to donate blood for 12 months after the last sexual contact even if protection was used.

Despite being in an exclusive relationship with his partner Daniel Jacobs, Mr Eteveneaux was still excluded from donating.

"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 says on its national 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."

According to Stefan Poniatowski from the Donor Tissue Bank of Victoria, the reason why gay men aren't able to donate tissue is because "there is an increased prevalence of infectious diseases within this community that can be passed on to patients through blood and tissue transplants".

"The 12-month deferral period is defined by the Therapeutic Goods Administration under a Therapeutic Goods Order that the blood and tissue banks in Australia must comply with," he told our sister paper news.com.au.

"A blood sample from all donors is tested for the main serious infections that can be passed on to recipients (HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C). The problem is that these tests do not detect these diseases in the early period of infection which is called the window period (the time in which a person is infectious but tests negative for the disease).

"Therefore the only way to minimise the risk of transmitting these diseases is to apply a deferral period after a high-risk activity."

Mr Poniatowski said there are many deferral periods in place for various diseases so that patients needing transfusions and tissue transplants are kept as safe as possible.

But in New Zealand, Ms Eteveneaux felt the regulation discriminated against gay men.

"I thought we as a country we'd moved forward in 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."

Speaking to Stuff.co.nz, gay rights advocate Frances Arns, who is the executive director for RainbowYouth, said rules excluding gay men from donating tissue were outdated, and that a 12-month stand-down period for men who had sex with other men was "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."

In terms of organs, Mr Eteveneaux​ would have potentially been eligible to donate, had it been medically possible.

"The potential for organ and tissue donation is assessed individually at the time of their death to determine if donation is possible," a statement from the Organ and Tissue Authority said.

"The determining factors for a person to donate are where and how a person dies and the condition of their organs and tissue.

"While a person's medical and social history will be considered, a person's sexual orientation is not an exclusion factor for organ donation."