Woman with terminal illness denied transplant for being unvaccinated

Annette Lewis v. AHS, ABC Hospital, doctors who cannot be named

Woman with terminal illness denied transplant for being unvaccinated

Annette Lewis v. AHS, ABC Hospital, doctors who cannot be named

Sheila Annette Lewis was a brave Canadian who suffered with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a terminal condition. She needed an organ transplant to live but was rejected from Alberta’s transplant program because she declined the Covid-19 vaccination out of concerns for her already vulnerable health.

[This case was under a publication ban. Due to a Court Order, the Justice Centre may not reveal the names of the doctors, the hospital, the city where the transplant program is located, nor the name of the organ that Ms. Lewis needed for life-saving surgery.]

Ms. Lewis had been on the waiting list for a double transplant for the two years prior to May 2022 and was at that time at Status 2 on that list, which was the ranking for transplant candidates who are in urgent need of a transplant. In June of 2020, her medical team had confirmed she was in excellent health apart from her diseased organ and was a good candidate for transplant.

She was told in March of 2021 that transplant candidates were required to receive one of the recently developed Covid-19 vaccines as a condition of receiving the transplant. She was also told to review a two-page document entitled “Covid-19 Vaccine information Solid Organ Transplant Candidates and Recipients”. The AHS Organ Transplant Policy outlined AHS’ policy on Covid-19 vaccines and solid organ transplant candidates and recipients and specifically states that the Covid-19 vaccines are recommended, not required, for transplant surgeries. Ms. Lewis repeatedly advised the members of the transplant team that she could not take the Covid-19 vaccine and that she needed to stay on the transplant list. In response, the transplant team told Ms. Lewis they would remove her from the transplant recipient list if she did not receive the Covid19 vaccine.

At the same time, the Respondent, Dr. A, informed Ms. Lewis she would die if she did not receive the surgery soon. Ms. Lewis, in her Affidavit, said, “I am under extreme duress, knowing that my choice not to comply will result in the loss of my life. I cannot give informed consent under duress…I need this requirement removed so that I can get my transplant. I do not want to die.” As of her capacity test in July 2021, her capacity was below 35%. She required the use of an oxygen machine 24 hours a day and has been informed by pulmonologists that her condition is terminal. Without a transplant, she knew she did not have long to live.

Neither the treating physicians’ nor AHS’ Covid vaccination policies for transplant patients are written, but both were communicated to Ms. Lewis by her treating physicians.

On May 19, 2022, lawyers with the Justice Centre filed an Application in the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench asking that the court uphold Ms. Lewis’ Charter-protected right to conscience, bodily autonomy, and freedom to choose without coercion.

In support of her Charter arguments, Ms. Lewis filed expert reports from two immunologists, Dr. Bonnie Mallard and Dr. Byram Bridle, who is also a vaccinologist. Their expert reports and oral testimony illustrated that the Covid vaccines are still in clinical trials and will be in clinical trials until late 2022 at the earliest, and that the peer reviewed research and raw scientific data lead them to seriously question the safety and efficacy of the Covid vaccines as compared to traditional vaccines that have been around for decades.

She also filed an expert report from a surgeon with a Masters in Health Care Ethics, Dr. Benjamin Turner, who testified that the benefit of vaccination for Ms. Lewis was so small that it was unethical to require her to get the Covid vaccine prior to her transplant.

On July 12, 2022, an Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench judge ruled that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply to the decision of an organ transplant team, which requires candidates to be vaccinated for Covid-19 prior to their organ transplant. Justice R. P. Belzil found that while the Charter applies to AHS, in this instance “the proposed AHS policy, which has not been completed, mirrors the recommendations of the treating physicians which are exercising clinical judgment.” The evidence in fact showed that one of the treating physicians advised Ms. Lewis in November 2021 that AHS required Covid vaccination for transplant candidates.

Justice Belzil declined to address the scientific and ethical arguments advanced because he determined that the Charter did not apply to the treating physicians.

On April 14, 2023, counsel for Ms. Lewis sent a demand letter to AHS, an Alberta hospital, and her transplant physicians, demanding that they accept her now established (and widely-accepted) natural immunity to Covid-19 as an alternative to Covid-19 vaccination and reinstate her to the high-priority transplant waitlist by April 21, 2023.On March 29, Ms. Lewis had provided her doctors in the Alberta Transplant Program with a privately funded medical report (“Kinexus Report”) establishing that Ms. Lewis had strong natural immunity to Covid-19 and had overcome previous Covid infections.On April 3, one of the transplant physicians informed her that despite these test results which show she has natural immunity to Covid-19, nothing had changed in regards to healthcare policies pertaining to Covid-19 vaccination requirements and she would still need to receive the Covid-19 vaccines before they would agree to give her an organ transplant. He told her that the Kinexus Report concluded that even with natural immunity, she would need a booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. However, the report does not say anything about Ms. Lewis needing a booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to maintain immunity to Covid-19.Ms. Lewis was fighting for her life, not just in terms of health, but also in terms of justice. She had been challenging the constitutionality of Covid-19 vaccine requirements for transplant candidates put in place by AHS, an Alberta Hospital, and six transplant doctors, for more than a year. She was unsuccessful at both the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench and the Alberta Court of Appeal in 2022, with both levels of court finding that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the “Charter”) and the Alberta Bill of Rights did not apply. In January 2023, she had filed an application with the Supreme Court of Canada, asking them to hear her appeal. Canada’s highest court has not yet decided whether it will do so.Ms. Lewis asked her physicians a year prior to test her blood for Covid-19 antibodies to see if she was naturally immune, and they refused to do so. With private funding, however, Ms. Lewis had her blood analyzed at Kinexus Bioinformatics Corporation as part of her enrollment in Kinexus’ clinical study entitled “Identification of SARS-CoV-2 Viral Protein Epitopes for Antibodies from Recovered COVID-19 Patients, Healthy and Vaccinated Individuals”. This study has received Independent Review Board approval. At that time, Kinexus has monitored over 4,000 Covid-19 patients and healthy, unvaccinated controls with its SARS-CoV-2 antibody tests. The study’s preliminary results were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight.The Kinexus report found that Ms. Lewis’s blood sample (1) “clearly supports the presence of SARS-CoV-2 immunoreactivity”, (2) shows that she was likely infected with SARS-CoV-2 around mid-September 2021, (3) shows that she was infected with SARS-CoV-2 again more recently and has extremely high levels of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.The clinical study found that for the majority of participants with natural immunity, SARS-CoV-2 antibody levels are sustained for at least two years after initial infection.In August 2022, the US Centre for Disease Control announced that while Covid-19 vaccines have reduced mortality and hospitalizations due to Covid-19 in the US, so has natural immunity to Covid-19. A February 2023 study from The Lancet demonstrates that natural immunity cut the risk of hospitalization and death from a Covid reinfection by 88% for at least 10 months, and the immunity generated from an infection was found to be “at least as high, if not higher” than that provided by two doses of an mRNA vaccine.“The transplant program team, AHS, and the hospital ought to accept Ms. Lewis’s natural immunity to Covid-19 as an alternative to Covid-19 vaccination and reinstate her to the high priority transplant list immediately,” stated Allison Pejovic, legal counsel for Ms. Lewis. “There is no principled medical or scientific reason to continue to deny Ms. Lewis a life-saving organ transplant,”

Ms. Pejovic continued, “She is protected from Covid-19 as she has had it twice. The refusal to accept Ms. Lewis’s natural immunity as an alternative to Covid-19 vaccination and give her life-saving surgery is indefensible and a disgrace.”

On June 8, 2023, the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear Sheila Annette Lewis’ case against Covid-19 vaccine mandates for transplant candidates.

“Ms. Lewis is deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court of Canada decided not to hear her case,” stated Ms. Pejovic. “She had hoped that justice would prevail in the courts for herself and other unvaccinated transplant candidates across Canada. Unfortunately, her constitutional challenge has ended today, while the unscientific Covid-19 vaccine mandate persists with no end in sight.”

Following this disappointing decision, Ms. Lewis filed a separate legal action grounded in negligence against AHS, an Alberta hospital, and the transplant doctors due to their decision to remove her from the high priority transplant list due to her failure to take the Covid-19 vaccines, especially now that she can demonstrate that she has robust natural immunity to Covid-19. She accused them of medical malpractice and planned to ask the court to grant an immediate reinstatement to the high priority transplant list pending the result of the negligence action. In this separate legal action, she was being represented by legal counsel Umar Sheikh at Sheikh Law.

On August 24, 2023, the Justice Centre was saddened to hear about the passing of Ms. Lewis. She courageously stood up for freedom and bodily autonomy even in the face of significant threats to her life. Alberta Health Services (AHS), the hospital and doctors took away her ability to live a long, free life. She will always be remembered for the courageous stance she took, not just for herself, but for all other Canadians who have been denied life-saving transplants or medical treatments because of unfair, unscientific vaccination policies. Our thoughts remain with her family in her passing.

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