Alberta woman argues removal from AHS organ transplant list over COVID-19 vaccine refusal was unconstitutional – Calgary Sun

“She wants to survive, and she doesn’t want to do anything that’s going to jeopardize her survival”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct information about Lewis’s status on the AHS organ transplant waitlist. She remains on the list pending the court’s decision on her case. 

An Alberta woman is asking a judge to deem unconstitutional a move requiring her to receive a COVID-19 vaccination prior to a major medical procedure.

Annette Lewis says Alberta Health Services will remove her from a waiting list for a life-saving organ transplant if she refuses to take what she considers an “experimental” vaccine.

During an injunction hearing Wednesday, Allison Pejovic, Lewis’s lawyer, said the Court of Queen’s Bench should prohibit AHS from removing Lewis from her place on the transplant list and allow the surgery to go ahead without a COVID-19 vaccine.

Pejovic, a lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which has litigated against COVID-19 public health measures throughout the pandemic, told Justice Paul Belzil that her client is not a conspiracy theorist, an “anti-vaxxer” or a supporter of the “freedom convoy” that descended on Ottawa earlier this year.

“We are here today to talk about the importance of choice without coercion,” she said.

AHS and the doctors named in Lewis’s application argue that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and a reasonable requirement for someone undergoing major surgery. Daniel Morrow, a lawyer for the doctors, said transplant recipients are among the groups most at risk of dying from a COVID-19 infection.

A restricted access order and publication ban prevent Postmedia from identifying the specific organ Lewis requires, as well as the name of the hospital and the doctors involved.

Lewis, 57, says she will die without the transplant. She first met with a team of doctors in 2019 after she developed serious health problems and was placed on a waitlist for the organ in June 2020.

Prior to joining the list, Lewis had to repeat a round of childhood vaccinations after AHS failed to locate her vaccination history. Pejovic conceded those vaccines are “safe.”

In March 2021, Lewis says she met with a doctor who told her she needed to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to receive a transplant. “He told me if I did not take the COVID-19 vaccine, I would not get the transplant, and if I did not get the transplant, I would die,” she said in a sworn affidavit.

Lewis says she is worried about reports of side effects linked to vaccines and says taking one “goes against my conscience.”

“She wants to survive, and she doesn’t want to do anything that’s going to jeopardize her survival,” Pejovic said of her client. 

In support of Lewis’s position, Pejovic offered evidence from two faculty members at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College, Bonnie Mallard, a professor specializing in animal immunology, and Byram Bridle, a viral immunologist.

Pejovic said Belzil should not accept attempts by AHS and the doctors to undercut Mallard and Bridle because of their association with the anti-mandate Canadian COVID Care Alliance, which advocated for the use of Ivermectin in treating coronavirus patients.

Pejovic also disclosed that Mallard spoke at a freedom convoy rally against COVID-19 measures in Ottawa earlier this year, but said her research is solid and that her speaking engagements were not evidence “she has an agenda and ought not to be followed.”

Bridle has also been on the anti-mandate speaking “circuit,” Pejovic said but argued his “opinions on politics on a personal level do not colour his scientific findings” on vaccines.

Michael Houghton, a University of Alberta virologist who won the Nobel prize in medicine for his work on the hepatitis C virus, was among those who gave evidence on behalf of AHS.

Pejovic criticized the report Houghton prepared for AHS, calling it “bare bones” and saying the Nobel laureate “walked in here thinking he could win over the court with the fact he’s won a Nobel prize.”

Morrow, the doctors’ lawyer, said transplant patients undergo immunosuppression to prevent their bodies from rejecting the new organ, which leaves them “extremely vulnerable” to infection. Transplant physicians, meanwhile, have to balance obligations to other patients, donors and their families in a world where organs are scarce.

Morrow said it is not uncommon for someone to die waiting for an organ to become available, and doctors are “medically and ethically obligated to allocate organs … to those most in need and with the best probability of short-term and long-term survival.”

He said Lewis’s application is an attempt to “circumvent” the doctors’ medical expertise, which if successful would have “serious and far-reaching consequences.”

Lawyers for AHS and the doctors are expected to continue their submissions Thursday. Belzil said he will deliver his decision in writing by July 22.

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