Dying man files human rights complaint, says transplant policy is discriminatory

David Dennis from Nuu-chah-nulth Nation in British Columbia has end-stage liver disease and needs a transplant or could die within a month.

Although he has willing donors, Dennis is being denied a spot on a provincial wait list because he’s only been sober since June 4, 2019.

B.C.’s abstinence policy requires liver transplant recipients have zero alcohol for six months.

That’s time Dennis, a 44-year-old father of five, doesn’t have.

On Tuesday he and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and Frank Paul Society filed a joint complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. Dennis is the President of the Frank Paul Society.

He says the provincial transplant policy is a lethal form of racism against Indigenous peoples.

“The question really is about trauma — how do you introduce that idea where you calculate somebody’s trauma?” he says.

Dennis also says a number of donors with universal blood type have offered to help.

“But to my surprise we haven’t even done a test to see what my blood type is.

“They don’t have it on file — so the depths of just how silly this process has been reveals quite a bit about the bureaucracy of this health care system here in Vancouver.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the UBCIC is also calling for the abstinence policy to be repealed and for Dennis to be placed on the transplant list.

Phillip says intergenerational trauma from colonization must be taken into consideration.

“It’s jeopardizing his chance off surviving,” he says.

“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 rigidly we would loose a lot of our people.”

Phillip had liver disease himself and underwent a transplant 23 years ago.

The chief says he’s hopeful B.C. will do the right thing.

“I’m optimistic that something good will come out of this,” he says.

Dennis says he’s trying to stay positive, but that if he doesn’t win he wants the battle to carry on.

“We’re hoping that this case, whether we are around or not, that it continues and that it helps marginalized people in the long run.”

He says the most difficult part for him  is having to explain to his 5-year-old daughter that he might die.

“Getting to that place where she understands that dad might not be coming back — and that is scary as hell,” he says through tears.

The B.C. Transplant Society and the Vancouver Coastal Health’s liver transplant team are reviewing Dennis’ case.

Editor’s Note: After this story was published health authorities in B.C. told APTN their abstinence policy for organ transplant recipients had changed earlier this year. Read Laurie Hamelin’s follow-up story, Liver transplant ‘misunderstanding’ means there’s still hope for David Dennis.