Human rights complaint over 'discriminatory' no-alcohol policy for liver transplants proceeds - InfoNews

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Human rights complaint over 'discriminatory' no-alcohol policy for liver transplants proceeds

July 16, 2020 - 7:30 AM

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has agreed to allow a case to be filed by the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs on behalf of Indigenous people who have been denied a liver transplant because they did not abstain from alcohol for six months.

The Union is arguing the government's abstinence policy discriminates against Indigenous people who suffer disproportionately higher rates of alcohol use and comes nine months after an Indigenous man, who died in May, filed a human rights complaint making a similar allegation.

The decision says to be eligible to receive a liver transplant, applicants with a history of alcohol use disorder must quit drinking for six months before being allowed on the liver transplant waitlist.

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal case, filed June 17, challenges the lawfulness of the policy that requires individuals to abstain from alcohol for six months in order to be eligible for a liver transplant.

"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," reads the decision.

The complaint alleges that there is little or no scientific support for the abstinence policy and says the policy puts Indigenous peoples' health at risk, can be potentially fatal, and is an "affront to their dignity, respect, and self-worth."

Tribunal Chair, Diana Juricevic agreed to accept the complaint stating, if proven, the abstinence policy could discriminate on the ground of Indigenous identity and physical disability. 

The complaint was filed against the Ministry of Health, the Provincial Health Services Authority, the British Columbia Transplant Society, and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

The Union's complaint was filed on behalf of "Indigenous persons denied a liver transplant in B.C." but does identify David Dennis, who filed a similar complaint in August 2019. Media reports at the time quoted B.C. Transplant saying the abstinence policy was no longer in effect and there had been a miscommunication. Dennis died in May, the decision does not give the cause of his death.

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs says in the decision there are other individuals that have been directly affected by the liver transplant abstinence policy, as well as members of their families, and are willing to take part in the complaint.

In the decision, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs says Indigenous peoples' disproportionately high rates of alcohol use disorder are due to historic and ongoing oppressive and colonialist policies. The Union also lists genetics and a lack of metabolizing enzymes as factors for high rates of alcohol abuse, combined with environmental factors such as trauma, early age onset use, and environmental hardships.

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