Human Rights Tribunal Rejects Attempt to Derail UBCIC’s Challenge to Liver Transplant Discrimination
(xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C. – September 22, 2022) The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal (BCHRT) has rejected an attempt by BC health authorities to dismiss UBCIC’s representative complaint against discriminatory access to liver transplants for Indigenous patients. The Provincial Health Services Authority, the BC Transplant Society and Vancouver Coastal Health Authority are respondents in that complaint.
In September of 2020, UBCIC filed a representative complaint asserting that Indigenous patients are denied equal access to liver transplants. The human rights action is part of a larger campaign by UBCIC to pursue equal access to medical services for Indigenous people.
The circumstances that gave rise to this human rights complaint and UBCIC intervention in the Tribunal was specifically identified as a case of concern when the In Plain Sight report was released after an independent inquiry (https://engage.gov.bc.ca/app/uploads/sites/613/2020/11/In-Plain-Sight-Summary-Report.pdf (page 49)). That Report called upon BC health service providers, Ministry of Health and related entities to take immediate and necessary steps to eradicate all forms of individual and systemic racism against Indigenous peoples in the health care system.
UBCIC’s case challenges two aspects of the process to determine access to liver transplants. First, the case challenges a policy requiring a 6 month period of abstinence from alcohol consumption before being considered for a liver transplant as discriminatory. Research shows that a 6 month period of abstinence is unnecessary to health recovery from a liver transplant. The respondents had argued that they had decided to change the abstinence policy in May of 2019, and then circulated a letter to specialists thereafter. The BCHRT found that merely announcing a policy change is not enough, and that the new policy was not released until 2022. Furthermore, the BCHRT found that it is not enough for health authorities to merely change the official policy; they must also change the discriminatory practice.
“Cases that document clear and irrefutable discrimination against Indigenous peoples in BC Health care have been well documented and repeatedly condemned, and I refer anyone to the thorough In Plain Sight report. We are coming up on the 2nd anniversary of that report, and we should be at this stage when the discrimination is eliminated, and not simply a time when complaints move forward in the human rights system,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, UBCIC President, in response to the decision. “This has to be fixed and with great diligence.”
The second aspect of the case challenges the use of the Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) score, which is used as a measurement of need for a transplant. MELD scores of patients with Primary Biliary Cirrhosis (PBC) tend to be lower, and Indigenous patients, particularly Indigenous women, are disproportionately affected by PBC.
A portion of the claim against the Ministry of Health was dismissed on the basis that the Ministry did not have a role in creating or implementing the discriminatory policies. This does not affect the force or impact of the claim.
“I have very little doubt that UBCIC bringing this claim forced the transplant authorities to change their policies,” said Jason Gratl, legal counsel for UBCIC. “Quality assurance and documented details are needed to demonstrate that the policies are fully implemented and the victims properly compensated.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President, 250-490-5314
Chief Don Tom, Vice-President, 604-290-6083
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, Secretary-Treasurer, c/o 778-866-0548
Jason Gratl, UBCIC Legal Counsel, 604-317-1919
For more information please visit www.ubcic.bc.ca