An Indigenous man in need of a liver transplant has filed a complaint with B.C. Human Rights Tribunal over BC Transplant’s six-month abstinence policy that has excluded him from the province-wide wait list.
David Dennis, who is Nuu-chah-nulth, said in a news release Tuesday that he has end-stage liver disease and is need of a life-saving transplant. While he has been sober since June, he won’t be placed on a transplant list unless he remains abstinent until December, as per BC Transplant’s Abstinence Policy.
Filed jointly by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the Frank Paul Society, Dennis argues that the policy discriminates against Indigenous people, who have disproportionately higher rates of alcohol use disorder largely due to harmful colonial policies but especially through the intergenerational traumas of the Indian residential schools.
“I’m not just at the bottom of the waiting list for a liver transplant; I’ve been kicked off the list entirely,” Dennis said.
“I want to continue to live and be here for my children and family. But if I don’t make it, I want the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and Frank Paul Society to carry on and get rid of this lethal form of racism.”
The complaint names the Ministry of Health, the Provincial Health Services Agency, Vancouver Coastal Health and the BC Transplant Society.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, called the policy “antiquated [and] moralizing,” and one that “disproportionately punishes Indigenous peoples without any scientific rationale.”
He added that this could make an easy win for the provincial government in making good on its commitment toward reconciliation and equity, as recommended in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action.
The groups want an end to the abstinence policy, Dennis to be placed on the transplant list immediately and a declaration that the policy is discriminatory towards Indigenous people and those with alcohol use disorders.
“The proper response to Indigenous peoples whose lives have been affected by intergenerational trauma and oppressive colonial policies should include empathy and understanding, not another door shut to justice and equality,” he said.
According to a study published in the Canadian Liver Journal by three doctors at the University of Western Ontario, most transplant programs require at least six months of sobriety for two reasons: to identify patients who are at risk of relapsing and to give time for recovering from any ongoing alcohol-related injuries or chemical dependence.
Black Press Media has reached out to BC Transplant for comment.