VANCOUVER—A B.C. government agency has apologized to a dying Indigenous man who filed a human rights complaint after he says he was told he couldn’t get a life-saving liver transplant because of an alcohol abstinence policy.
BC Transplant blamed the incident on a “misunderstanding” Thursday, saying the rule has not been in effect for months, and that David Dennis is now being assessed as a possible transplant candidate.
Dennis, 42, was told by doctors that he would likely not live beyond the middle of September without a transplant. Earlier this week, he filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal over a policy he said was excluding him from the transplant list because he hasn’t abstained from alcohol for six months as required by the province. The Vancouver man said he’d been sober since June.
“We apologize for any upset caused,” BC Transplant operations director Ed Ferre said in a statement Thursday, 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.”
The human rights complaint, filed jointly with the Frank Paul Society and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), said the abstinence policy discriminated against Dennis, who is of Nuu-chah-nulth ancestry, on the grounds of race, ancestry and physical disability.
It named the Ministry of Health, the Provincial Health Services Agency, Vancouver Coastal Health and the B.C. Transplant Society as respondents, and alleged the policy discriminates against Indigenous people because they have “disproportionately higher rates of alcohol-use disorder largely due to centuries of racist and harmful colonial practices.”
In a statement Tuesday outlining his complaint, Dennis called the policy a “lethal form of racism.”
“I want to continue to live and be here for my children and family,” he said in the statement. “But if I don’t make it, I want the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and Frank Paul Society to carry on and get rid of this lethal form of racism.”
Ferre said that the alcohol-abstinence recommendation was removed from the agency’s exclusion criteria in May.
“Since then, no patients have been refused or removed from the transplant list for this reason alone,” Ferre said.
“On occasion, we still encourage alcohol abstinence for patients and often find that this improves the liver condition and can sometimes remove the need for transplant altogether.”
Dennis could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.
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