By Lee Harding, Special to the Justice Centre
Doctors at the University of Alberta hospital told terminally-ill Annette Lewis, she could not get a double lung transplant unless she accepted the COVID-19 vaccine.
The requirement by an Edmonton hospital that organ donors take the COVID-19 vaccine has been called “unethical” by a lawyer and a doctor.
Annette Lewis is second in line to receive a double lung transplant, but was told repeatedly by University of Alberta hospital staff she would be taken off the list unless she received the COVID-19 vaccine. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis has eroded her lung capacity to less than 40 % and without a transplant, the 56-year-old patient will die.
Lewis has not taken the vaccine because she is concerned about the risks of side effects and that it has not received full approval from Health Canada. Dr. Charles Hoffe, a family physician from Lytton, B.C., shares Lewis’ concerns and finds no “validity” to require the vaccine as a condition for surgery.
“This is an experimental product that has not been tested in immunosuppressed or transplant patients, so we have no idea what it’s going to do to [them]. Normally, it takes between five and ten years to develop a vaccine. And this is not just a new vaccine, this is completely new technology that had never been used on humans before this pandemic which have had absolutely no animal trials whatsoever. And they’re normally a legal requirement,” Dr. Hoffe explained.
Organ recipients aren’t the only ones denied surgery, Dr. Hoffe said.
“I get desperate emails from people that tell me that they’ve been waiting for a knee replacement for three years, and now they’re told that unless they get double vaccinated, they’re not having surgery. And I’ll tell you the absurdity of this.”
Last week, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms released an audio recording where a member of the lung transplant team told Lewis she would be removed from the transplant list if she refuses the shot. This was confirmed to Lewis by medical personnel in a letter on August 9 and a phone conversation September 2. On September 2, the JCCF wrote a legal demand letter to Dr. Rhea Varughese, Assistant Professor at the Lung Transplant Program at the University of Alberta, regarding the decision to require double lung recipients to get the Covid vaccine. The letter requests officials to confirm by September 9 that Lewis will be exempted from the requirement. “The hospital’s conduct in making an ultimatum of this nature to a terminally ill patient is coercive and unethical…[It] is a profound violation of Ms. Lewis’ human dignity, personal autonomy, and her constitutionally protected right to life, liberty and security of the person,” Justice Centre Staff Lawyer Allison Pejovic said in a statement. “Having to choose between taking an experimental vaccine that she does not want, or certain death, is not a choice,” said Pejovic.
Dr. Hoffe agrees.
“it is completely unethical to force anybody to have a medical treatment that they don’t want. I mean, it is completely unethical. There’s something called informed consent, which is a legal requirement for any medical procedure,” Dr. Hoffe explained.
“There’s four aspects to informed consent, and the first is to discuss the benefits, the second the risks, the third is the alternatives, and the fourth aspect is that when a person gives informed consent to a medical procedure, they are not allowed to be coerced in any way. It needs to be a free choice.
Dr. Hoffe said organ recipients aren’t the only category of vulnerable patients for whom the COVID-19 vaccines were never tested.
“They’ve only tested it on very limited groups and basically, mostly relatively healthy people. They never tested it on the frail elderly, they never tested it on immune suppressed or transplant patients. They never tested it on people who had significant medical problems mainly because they wanted to prove it was safe.”
Lee Harding is a Saskatchewan-based journalist.