(July 2020) – On behalf of Indigenous peoples, a representative complaint has been filed by the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) against the Ministry of Health, the Provincial Health Services Authority, the British Columbia Transplant Society and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. The reason for the complaint is a rule which requires those in need of a new liver to abstain from alcohol for 6 months.
The UBCIC alleges that the rule is discriminatory towards First Nations.
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal accepted the complaint. Diana Juricevic, chair of the Tribunal said, “This complaint alleges that the Abstinence Policy has a discriminatory impact on Indigenous persons who suffer from disproportionately higher rates of alcohol use disorder by limiting their access to vital and necessary healthcare.”
The complaint also “alleges that there is little or no scientific support for the Abstinence Policy which puts the health of Indigenous persons at risk, potentially fatally, by delaying access to liver transplants and is an affront to their dignity, respect, and self‐worth.”
Juricevic was “satisfied that the complaint has set out facts which, if proven, could be discrimination in services.”
Back in 2019, an Indigenous man named David Dennis made similar allegations. In their own case, David Dennis’ Lawyer Jason Gratl said his client was denied a new liver due to the alcohol abstinence policy. Dennis had only been sober since June 2019 and was ineligible for a new liver. He was told that he wouldn’t live past September. “It’s difficult to bring (the complaint) as those affected by the policy die,” Gratl said. “It’s a type of policy that’s resistant to review.”
“The old justification is that you shouldn’t give an alcoholic a new liver because they’ll just drink it away and destroy a new liver.”
Dennis said when the complaint was filed: “I’m not just at the bottom of the waiting list for a liver transplant; I’ve been kicked off the list entirely. I want to continue to live and be here for my children and family.”
Then in August, The Provincial Health Services Authority (of which BC Transplant is a program) said it is “deeply committed to equity in healthcare and working with our Indigenous colleagues to understand, define and eradicate anti-Indigenous racism at interpersonal, organizational and systemic levels.”
“With respect to BC Transplant requirements, in 2019 the Liver Transplant Program removed the absolute requirement for a six month period (minimum) of alcohol abstinence and no patients have been refused or removed from the transplant list for this reason alone,” the statement continued.
“We apologize for any upset caused,” BC Transplant operations director Ed Ferre said, calling the incident “a misunderstanding of the guidelines and processes around liver transplantation. We have been in direct contact with the patient and can confirm that the process for transplant assessment is underway.”
Dennis, 46, died from health complications on May 29, 2020 after battling liver disease.
He called the policy a “lethal form of racism.”
Jake Cardinal is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Alberta Native News.