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Man with end-stage liver disease files human rights complaint over transplant policy
Update, Aug. 15: On Thursday, BC Transplant issued a statement from provincial operations director Ed Ferre saying it has been in direct contact with the patient and begun the process for "transplant assessment." Ferre said the agency believes "there was a misunderstanding of the guidelines and processes around liver transplantation" and that it apologizes "for any upset caused." The original story follows.
David Dennis isn't sure how much longer he has to live.
"I would be lucky if we made it to the next three months," Dennis said.
The 44 year-old has end-stage liver disease, but said he isn’t on B.C.’s waitlist for a transplant, due to an abstinence policy requiring no alcohol consumption for six months. Dennis says he's now sober, but it hasn't been long enough for him to fit the criteria.
“If they change it today, I would have probably a 30 per cent chance of survival. But that’s today,” he said.
Dennis, who is Indigenous, has now filed a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal, along with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the organization he leads, the Frank Paul Society. They call the policy “discriminatory”. Union president Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said there’s great urgency attached to this particular case.
“Indigenous people, historically, have been acknowledged to have greater issues with substance abuse and alcoholism and things of that nature, and the sense is that if the policy were applied too rigidly, we’d lose a lot of our people,” Stewart said.
Dennis told CTV News Vancouver alcohol was a part of his life for a long time. He said his parents were chronic alcoholics and he also suffered from post-concussion syndrome after intervening in a domestic assault, which he believes was a factor in his alcoholism.
A news release from the Union of BC Indian Chiefs said disproportionately high rates of alcohol abuse are due to centuries of “racist and harmful colonial policies implemented at all levels of Canadian government, but especially through the intergenerational traumas of the Indian residential schools on Indigenous families and communities.”
In the Notice of Complaint, the statement of facts said Dennis was informed he is a good candidate for a transplant: “David Dennis has abstained from alcohol use since June 4, 2019. The Abstinence Policy excludes David Dennis from eligibility for a liver transplant until December 4, 2019 at the earliest.” The document stated the exclusion puts his health and potentially his life at risk, and “is an affront to his sense of self-worth, respect, and dignity.”
The Notice called for the Abstinence Policy to be removed, and for Dennis to be placed on the wait list.
CTV requested an interview with the BC Transplant Society, but were told no one was available. In an emailed statement, the society said it is aware of the case.
“While we do not publicly discuss the specific details of individual cases due to patient privacy, we will be reviewing this case together with the Liver Transplant Team at Vancouver Coastal Health,” the statement said.
Ontario has a similar abstinence policy, but in 2017 the agency overseeing transplants announced plans to conduct a pilot project to determine whether the criteria should be changed, following a legal challenge.
Dennis has asked his friends and colleagues to continue his fight, in case he can’t. He wants to continue living life with his family, including his five year-old daughter, but he admits he’s been preparing for death.
“My outlook right now isn’t very sunny,” he said.
Whether he lives to see the outcome of his human rights complaint or not, Dennis is hoping a change in policy may also help other patients who come after him.