David Dennis. (UBCIC video screenshot)

Indigenous man behind complaint of BC Transplant’s alcohol abstinence policy has died

David Dennis, who is Nuu-chah-nulth, argued that six-month sobriety policy is a ‘lethal form of racism’

An ailing B.C. man who last year filed a Human Rights complaint over BC Transplant’s six-month alcohol abstinence policy has died.

But the Union of BC Indian Chiefs has applied as intervenor to continue challenging the lawfulness of the policy, despite BC Transplant statements that it no longer exists.

David Dennis, who had end-stage liver disease, launched the complaint in August 2019 after being excluded from the wait list. At the time, he had been sober since June but BC Transplant’s policy dictated he would not be placed on the transplant list unless he remained abstinent until December.

Dennis, a member of western Vancouver Island’s Huu-ay-aht First Nation, died on May 29.

In a statement Tuesday (July 7), UBCIC Grand Chief Steward Phillip accused the health authorities listed in the complaint, including the Provincial Health Services Authority, of trying to have the complaint thrown out.

“If our application is denied, the Fraser Health Authority and B.C. Government will celebrate Dave’s death as a postponement of their day of reckoning,” he said.

“We cannot allow for his loss to enable further discrimination against Indigenous people by delaying justice, and our hearts weigh heavy with the knowledge that if accountability had come sooner, we might not have lost him at all.”

The complaint – filed jointly by the UBCIC and the Frank Paul Society – argues that the abstinence policy discriminates against Indigenous people, who have disproportionately higher rates of alcohol use disorder largely due to harmful colonial policies but especially through the inter-generational 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 at the time.

“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.”

BC Transplant claims ‘misunderstanding’

Shortly after Dennis brought forward his complaint, BC Transplant provincial operations director Ed Ferre said that the incident was a misunderstanding and that alcohol abstinence was removed as a requirement to be placed on the waiting list in May 2019, following the emergence of new medical research and evidence.

“We have been in direct contact with the patient and can confirm that the process for transplant assessment is underway” Ferre sad in a statement. “Unfortunately in this situation, we believe there was a misunderstanding of the guidelines and processes around liver transplantation and we apologize for any upset caused.”

Ferre said that since the policy change, no patients had been excluded from the list for alcohol use.

“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.”

Black Press Media has reached out to BC Transplant and the Provincial Health Services Authority for comment on the latest complaint status update.

Anti-Indigenous racism in B.C.’s health care system made headlines last month, after concerning allegations were brought forward that emergency room staff and doctors in provincial hospitals were playing a blood-alcohol guessing game when patients were brought in.

Health Minister Adrian Dix ordered an investigation into the claims and condemned such racist acts.


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

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