Gay Issues

Healthy Organ Donor Rejected Because He Was Gay, Family Says

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

A 48-year-old Pittsburgh man who died earlier this month was rejected as an organ donor because he was homosexual, his family says.

Rohn Neugebauer died suddenly of a heart attack on March 16, but he was an otherwise healthy organ and tissue donor.

He was passionate about organ donation and just a month before his death he hosted a fundraiser for the local organization Center for Organ Recovery & Education.

Neugebauer’s sister, Sandy Schultheis, told ThinkProgress that hours after he died, she patiently answered questions from a CORE representative for 20 minutes, detailing her brother’s health and medical history. The last question: whether her brother had been in a homosexual relationship over the last five years.

She said her brother was gay and had been in a committed relationship for the last eight years.

That’s when CORE told her he wasn’t an eligible donor.

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that “men who have had sex with another man in the preceding 5 years” should be excluded from donation of organs or tissues “regardless of their HIV antibody test results.”

The only exception is made when not performing the transplant would be a greater risk to the recipient than the transfer of HIV, in which case “informed consent regarding the possibility of HIV transmission should be obtained from the recipient.”

If LGBT organ donation is largely prohibited, then why do some organ donation groups like encourage those in the gay community to sign up as organ donors?

The Center for American Progress claims discriminatory donor policies “substitute stereotypes for science.”

“Every day in the United States, 43,200 people — one every two seconds — need life-saving blood transfusions,” says the CAP website. “In that same 24 hours, 18 people will die while waiting for a donor organ, with the gap between donated organs and those on the waitlist growing every year."

"Yet the Department of Health and Human Services’ policies on donor eligibility prevent donation by gay men because of outdated assumptions that are decades out of step with medical science," says CAP. "These policies harm patients who would benefit from the department modernizing these standards, which amount to little more than discriminatory relics of the past.”

Neugebauer’s partner, Dan Burda, who co-hosted the CORE fundraiser, says he’s upset with the organization’s decision.

Burda wrote about the situation on Facebook, which garnered attention from the local Pittsburgh NBC affiliate, WPXI.

“We just had a big fundraiser at Studio Raw and raised about $7,000 for CORE. It really makes me nauseous to think they declined him,” Burda told WPXI.

“I think it's very prejudiced, implying that basically that gay people all have AIDS and HIV,” he said.

WPXI posted the story online but took it down a few hours later. An executive producer told ThinkProgress that the station pulled it down because Neugebauer’s father contacted the station and was upset. Some of Neugebauer’s family members weren’t aware that he was gay.

Schultheis said her brother was openly gay and anyone who knew him also knew his partner Dan.

Sources: ThinkProgress, WPXI