VANCOUVER—Previously believing he had a little over a month left to live, David Dennis now says that you can call him “pessimistically overjoyed.”
On Thursday, a B.C. government agency called the 42-year-old and apologized for an apparent “misunderstanding” that led him to believe he could not get a liver transplant because of an alcohol abstinence policy.
That policy, BC Transplant now says, has not been in effect for months.
The incident has raised questions over how a terminally ill man was left “battling bureaucracy” and believing he did not qualify for an organ transplant with life-saving potential.
It’s a situation that has cost Dennis, who’s been told he will likely not live past mid-September, precious time.
“One of the aspects of my condition is a buildup of ammonia, which has worsened things over time,” he said Thursday night. “I have difficulty spelling that I didn’t have before, I can’t even use my phone anymore.”
Earlier this week, Dennis filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal over the abstinence policy, which had required six months of sobriety. The Vancouver man said he’d only been sober since June, and therefore did not qualify.
The complaint, filed jointly with the Frank Paul Society and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), said the abstinence policy discriminated against Dennis, who is of Nuu-chah-nulth ancestry, on the grounds of race, ancestry and physical disability.
It named the Ministry of Health, the Provincial Health Services Agency, Vancouver Coastal Health and the B.C. Transplant Society as respondents, and alleged the policy discriminates against Indigenous people because they have “disproportionately higher rates of alcohol-use disorder largely due to centuries of racist and harmful colonial practices.”
But on Thursday, BC Transplant said there had likely been a miscommunication.
“We apologize for any upset caused,” BC Transplant operations director Ed Ferre said in a statement, calling the incident “a misunderstanding of the guidelines and processes around liver transplantation.
“We have been in direct contact with the patient and can confirm that the process for transplant assessment is underway.”
Ferre said that the alcohol-abstinence recommendation was removed from the agency’s exclusion criteria in May.
“Since then, no patients have been refused or removed from the transplant list for this reason alone,” Ferre said. “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.”
Dr. Eric Yoshida, a gastroenterologist at Vancouver General Hospital and a member of the liver transplant program, said the miscommunication was “a complete mystery.”
“We don’t know where this comes from,” he said. “It’s something that we have to talk about and review.”
Jason Gratl, a lawyer for Dennis, said on Thursday that the response from the PHSA that the policy had been changed was “news to us,” but that it was now important to focus on the fact that Dennis could be eligible for a transplant.
Dennis, for his part, sounded a note of optimism.
“We feel we are moving ahead, to get a good result for all people, as well as a good result for Indigenous people,” he said.
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Cherise Seucharan is a Vancouver-based reporter covering crime and public safety. Follow her on Twitter: @CSeucharan