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B.C. man closer to liver transplant after ‘misunderstanding’ over alcohol abstinence policy

WATCH: (Aug. 13) To be on the BC liver transplant list, a potential recipient must prove they have been sober for at least 6 months. Some advocates claim the policy discriminates against indigenous people, because their population is disproportionately affected by alcoholism. As Nadia Stewart reports, one man waiting for a new liver is taking his fight to the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

A B.C. Indigenous man who says he was removed from a provincial waiting list for a liver transplant over an alcohol abstinence policy is now being assessed for the life-saving operation.

David Dennis, who suffers from end-stage liver disease, told Global News this week he was removed after not meeting a policy that requires transplant patients to abstain from alcohol consumption for six months.

READ MORE: Alcohol abstinence policy for liver transplants discriminatory, Indigenous advocates say

The 44-year-old filed a human rights complaint against BC Transplant, claiming the policy discriminates against Indigenous people and other communities with higher rates of alcohol use disorder.

In a statement Thursday, BC Transplant’s provincial operations director Ed Ferre said the policy had actually been removed in May after the emergence of new medical research and evidence, which prompted a review of clinical guidelines.

“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.

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Ferre added that no patients have been removed from the transplant list based on alcohol abuse alone.

Dennis’s complaint, which was filed along with the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said the policy “discriminates against Indigenous peoples, who have disproportionately higher rates of alcohol use disorder largely due to the centuries of racist and harmful colonial policies implemented at all levels of Canadian government, but especially through the intergenerational traumas of the Indian residential schools on Indigenous families and communities.”

READ MORE: Inuk woman discharged from hospital after being denied liver transplant due to alcohol use

A similar policy in Ontario prompted a court challenge, which led to a review of the policy. In 2017, an Inuit woman suffering from acute liver failure battled to overturn a six-month sobriety requirement for a spot on a transplant waiting list.

At the time, Dr. Atul Humar, director of transplantation at the University Health Network in Toronto, said one of the reasons for the widely-applied policy is that there is research suggesting some alcoholics who receive transplants will resume drinking, causing their new organ to fail.

READ MORE: Toronto hospital performs first paired liver transplant with living donors in North America

Ferre said BC Transplant will still “on occasion” recommend patients abstain from alcohol, which can improve the condition of the liver and sometimes lead to no transplant being needed.

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Dennis could not be reached for comment Thursday.

— With files from Nadia Stewart and Jon Azpiri