EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated to correct information regarding Lewis’ status on the AHS organ transplant waiting list. She remains on the list pending the court’s ruling on her case.
An Alberta woman asks a judge to rule 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 the waiting list for a life-saving organ transplant if she refuses to take what she considers an “experimental” vaccine.
In a hearing Wednesday, Allison Pejovic, Lewis’s attorney, said the Court of Queen’s Bench should ban AHS from removing Lewis from her place on the transplant list and allowing surgery to go ahead without a COVID-19 vaccine.
Pejovic, an attorney at the Justice Center for Constitutional Freedoms, which has litigated against COVID-19 public health measures during 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 previously descended on Ottawa this year.
“We’re here today to talk about the importance of agency without coercion,” she said.
AHS and the doctors named in Lewis’s application claim that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and a reasonable requirement for someone undergoing major surgery. Daniel Morrow, a doctors advocate, said transplant recipients are among the groups most at risk of dying from COVID-19 infection.
A restricted access warrant and publication ban prevent Postmedia from identifying the specific organ Lewis needs, as well as the name of the hospital and the doctors involved.
‘She wants to survive’
Lewis, 57, says she will die without the transplant. She first met a team of doctors in 2019 after she developed serious health problems and was placed on an organ waiting list in June 2020.
Before Lewis got on the list, Lewis had to repeat a series of childhood vaccinations after AHS failed to find her vaccination history. Pejovic admitted that those vaccines are “safe”.
In March 2021, Lewis says she met a doctor who told her she needed to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to get a transplant. “He told me that if I didn’t take the COVID-19 vaccine, I wouldn’t get the transplant, and if I didn’t get the transplant, I would die,” she said in an affidavit.
Lewis says she is concerned about reports of side effects associated with vaccines and says taking one is “against my conscience.”
“She wants to survive and she doesn’t want to do anything that would endanger her survival,” Pejovic said of her client.
In support of Lewis’s position, Pejovic offered evidence from two faculty members at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, Bonnie Mallard, a professor who specializes in animal immunology, and Byram Bridle, a viral immunologist.
Pejovic said Belzil should not accept attempts by AHS and the doctors to undermine Mallard and Bridle because of their association with the anti-mandated Canadian COVID Care Alliance, which has advocated the use of ivermectin in treating coronavirus patients.
Pejovic also revealed that Mallard spoke at a freedom convoy meeting 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 should not be followed.”
Bridle was also on the anti-mandate speaking “circuit,” Pejovic said, but argued that his “opinions on politics on a personal level do not color his scientific findings” about 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 to testify on behalf of AHS.
Pejovic criticized the report Houghton prepared for AHS, calling it “bare” and saying the Nobel laureate “came in here thinking he could win the court over that he won a Nobel Prize.”
Morrow, the doctor’s lawyer, said transplant patients undergo immunosuppression to prevent their bodies from rejecting the new organ, leaving them “extremely vulnerable” to infection. Transplant doctors, meanwhile, must balance obligations to other patients, donors and their families in a world where organs are scarce.
Morrow said it’s not uncommon for someone to die while 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 greatest chance of short- and long-term survival.” †
He said Lewis’s application is an attempt to “bypass” the doctors’ medical expertise, which, if successful, would have “serious and far-reaching consequences”.
AHS’s attorneys and doctors are expected to continue with their submissions on Thursday. Belzil said he will submit his decision in writing on July 22.