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Sheila Annette Lewis, the terminally ill Alberta woman who needed a life-saving organ transplant but chose not to get the COVID-19 vaccine required to receive one, died last week.

Lewis’s death is a tragedy, and all the more so because it seems to have been so unnecessary. But it wasn’t an act of “medical discrimination” against the unvaccinated, as her supporters (and enablers) are trying to pretend. Instead, it’s just another in a long line of otherwise preventable deaths caused by misinformation around the COVID-19 vaccine and the people who continue to trade in it. And for some reason, the leader of Canada’s official Opposition — and if current polls hold, our next prime minister — chose to side with them.

The facts of Lewis’s case are uncomplicated, if not uncontroversial. She was diagnosed with a terminal condition in her mid-50s and placed on an organ transplant wait list in June 2020. Lewis updated all of her other vaccinations but refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine, which she described as “experimental.” In March 2021, her doctor told her that she needed a transplant if she wanted to live, and that the COVID vaccine was a necessary precondition. “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.

This isn’t, as the vaccine-phobic community likes to pretend, because of some shared moral position in the medical community. It’s because organ transplantation is a high-risk procedure whose post-surgical interventions make the patient extremely vulnerable to viruses and diseases. According to statistics from Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN), unvaccinated transplant patients face a 12 per cent higher risk of organ rejection and a 30 per cent greater chance of dying from COVID-19.

More importantly, perhaps, the supply of available organs is extremely limited, and doctors have a responsibility to prioritize the patients most likely to care for them. “Remember, the organ is a really scarce resource,” Dr. Atul Humar, director of UHN’s Ajmera Transplant Centre, said in a 2021 CTV story. “It's something donated by another human being. And really, we have to go to all efforts to try to make sure the patient does well, but also that the organ is well cared for.”

Lewis was always free to prioritize her refusal to get vaccinated over her desire to get a life-saving medical procedure. But as the courts told her repeatedly — including two in Alberta — that didn’t constitute discrimination or a breach of her Charter rights. “It is beyond dispute that the applicant is the sole arbiter of what goes into her body,” Court of King’s Bench Justice Paul Belzil wrote in his decision. “I do not accept, however, that her beliefs and desire to protect her bodily integrity entitle her to impact the rights of other patients or the integrity of the (transplant program) generally.”

Her case attracted the predictable rabble of anti-vaccine doctors, lawyers and online news outlets. The medical experts who testified in her case were actually from the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College, and as the Edmonton Journal reported, “both are associated with the anti-mandate Canadian COVID Care Alliance and have appeared on the anti-vaccine speaking circuit.”

Her lawyer, Allison Pejovic, is affiliated with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, whose president John Carpay was just fined and disbarred in Manitoba along with a fellow JCCF lawyer for hiring a private investigator to trail the judge who was hearing a case involving COVID-19 public health orders. And, of course, Rebel Media and True North provided their predictably one-sided coverage of the whole fiasco — along with links to the usual petitions and fundraisers.

None of these people, I’d argue, had Lewis’s best interests in mind. What they saw was a willing martyr for their cause, one who could help them advance their own agendas or expand their audiences. If they genuinely wanted to help her, they should have sat her down and explained the science around COVID-19, or at least encouraged her to listen to the doctors who would do it for them. Instead, they chose to let her kill herself — in effect, to own the libs.

It wasn’t surprising to see Roman Baber, the newly appointed Conservative Party of Canada candidate for York Centre, join this fray. The former Ontario PC MPP was kicked out of Doug Ford’s caucus and party for his anti-vaccine views, ones he hasn’t backed away from in the least. “The Canada Health Act forbids discrimination, but Sheila Lewis was denied [a] transplant because of a lawful medical choice,” he tweeted. “Her death is a tragic failure of medical ethics and the administration of justice. I'll work to right this wrong until the last day of my career.”

Sheila Lewis refused the COVID-19 vaccine that was necessary for her life-saving organ transplant. What her death says about the ongoing war on science and expertise, and the willingness of conservative politicians to participate in it.

CPC Leader Pierre Poilievre’s endorsement of this position was, on the other hand, a bit more surprising. “So glad Roman is our Conservative candidate,” he tweeted. “I couldn’t agree more.” Apparently, doctors making decisions about organ transplants are now on his list of gatekeepers, and it’s worth wondering who else might make it on there.

It’s also worth pointing out that there are some gates that need to be kept. Experts are a key part of modern society, and their knowledge underwrites so many of the things that we’re able to take for granted. If there’s one unifying element of Poilievre’s worldview, and by extension of the party he leads, it’s a hostility towards expertise. Whether it’s climate science, COVID-19 or monetary policy, contemporary conservatism seems to be instinctively opposed to the people who know the most.

In the end, that’s what cost Sheila Lewis her life. We’d all do well to remember that — and understand there are many, many other lives still at stake.

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Politicians who offer opinions or promises to “right this wrong” could better serve their constituents by discovering the practices, procedures and the team members of our Transplant Services.

The decisions of placing or removing names on a transplant wait-list isn’t the decision of one but of a larger team of experienced “experts”(realizing that the term “experts” has been devalued by many in the same way that “science” has). Their task is to provide a list of candidates who are most in need, who are most prepared and who are most likely to benefit and survive the surgery in order to have the most positive healthy outcome of the donated organs.

Organ transplants are complex, risk filled surgeries where failure or rejection occurs. To prevent rejection, recipients will remain on immunosuppressive medications for the rest of their lives. Acquiring any infection post-operatively can be deadly.

As transplanted organs are often rejected, some recipients don’t survive the surgeries, some may never leave the hospital or die soon after surgery. These risks are fully discussed with potential recipients.

It’s important to note that organ recipients cannot “request” an organ from a donor of a particular sex, race, age or belief just as organ donors or their families cannot direct the transplant teams to recipients of their preference. Transplant recipients may receive an organ or blood or blood products from donors who were previously vaccinated against Covid-19 .

Our Canadian transplant sites are world class and are dedicated to providing the very best service to Canadians in need. Politicians who make noises suggesting that they know better yet have no experience with organ transplants, the pre and post-procedures nor the ethical debates and resulting guidance that they follow are unfortunately adding to the misinformation that may have contributed to this person’s decisions and ultimately her death.

@ M.L., thank you for your contribution to increase the depth of this discourse. It's very much appreciated.

Another pro-vaccine piece -- I have NEVER seen N.O. address the fact that the drug companies LIED to us for YEARS regarding the vaccines; from the start never having any evidence that the vaccines stopped the spread of covid. The N.O. has also never done a peace on the loss of bodily autonomy, businesses and jobs millions of canadians experienced; or the massive transfer of wealth from the working class to the 1%.

Bravo Max.

"Bravo" Jordan!
According to you, bodily autonomy is more important than public health?
And you really believe that the transfer of wealth happens through medicine?
You better check your sources to see if they are reliable.

Check your information, Jordan. The vaccines were never about stopping infection but reducing severity, hospitalization and death.

The EXPERTS agreed on that point but many without expertise didn't.

The vaccine does prevent transmission. If it prevents symptoms, it prevents the spread of pathogens. A cough or sneeze spreads pathogens a lot more than breathing or talking.

An issue with the Jordans of the world is they believe in absolutes. There's no mitigating risk or nuance in their worldview. Either go to heaven or go to hell. There's good, and there's evil. If we can't definitively say it won't stop all transmission, then it must not stop any.

As one who has seen a relative die much too early, but who had the compassion and foresight to donate many of his organs to seven different individuals and ultimately save their lives or make their lives much better, your comments are the ultimate in sacrificing the common good of society in favour of narcissism and theories that offer no genuine proof backed by peer review.

Please pay attention when the law repeatedly backs the health and well being of society over an individual's rights under the Charter.

I have enjoyed your writing Max, but I think you made a mistake in this one: calling people on the other side of the argument "rabble". Meeting anger with anger...I do it too...especially when I'm tired. Keep on man!

Many times I've criticized Trudeau over his many faults and half measures on various issues, but I was very happy to see him act like a true prime minister when he pulled out all the stops on purchasing vaccines. Those whose narrative points to collusion between the PMO and Big Pharma's experimental labs (or some other dumb ass conspiracy), they seem to have ignored the fact that the government went for the whole gamut of vaccines, not just the new mRNA varieties.

As the result, over 90% of Canadians got the first jab, one of the highest rates in the world, and the lower COVID death and long term illness rates reflected that in comparison to other countries with a lower vaccination rate. There is severe asthma in a close family member who freely and willingly chose all mRNA COVID vaccinations so far with the knowledge that the risks were far, far lower than getting long COVID or worse.

Nobody is saying one cannot have freedom of choice, but anti-vaxxers who pull that diatribe out their back pocket will rarely admit that getting the shot is also a result of freedom of choice. Sure, mandates cost businesses billions and millions of jobs were temporarily lost, but saving millions of lives with vaccinations against a deadly virus was for the greater good.

I read that even Danielle Smith slipped down to an Arizona clinic in 2020 and got the shot between her anti-vax public statements.

Why do critics of COVID mandates always cite the cost to businesses and jobs and never the widescale subsidies and grants offered for pandemic-related losses in business and jobs?

Why do they hammer Trudeau over the billions in accumulated debt to cover said losses to business and employment by spreading the cost more thinly over the entire economy, like insurance?

Why do they never comment on the prevention of a much greater disaster to society if vaccines, mandates and government coverage of of losses were never expended?

The answer is obvious: ideology that does not stand up to scrutiny.

By any objective measure, Canada came out of the pandemic better than most countries (e.g. US, Germany, UK, Australia) thanks to the Federal government's early efforts to secure vaccines and encourage people to get vaccinated. The government deserves more credit than its getting.

As usual, Conservative candidates and leaders take an anti common good stance in order to polarize voters. Unreal! For once I would like to see Conservative Leader Pretty Pierre, make a proposal, take a stance that favours the majority of Canadians. Just once, but I don't think I will live long enough. And that goes for Premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, allultra right neoliberals

Grrrrrrrrr .....

Her death was preventable yes , because the hospital decided to refuse the operation to a perfectly healthy person. It was a political decision .

This is part of the confusion. This person wasn’t “perfectly healthy”. In fact without a transplant she will die. That is a certainty. So her decision was between agreeing to a risky transplant versus being vaccinated by what she believed was a risky vaccine.
She would have received counselling by the transplant team to ensure that she understood the outcome of her decision.
At the same time waiting for a compatible organ often ends without ever receiving a match. The whole transplant experience is fraught with risks including being placed in immunosuppressive meds for life. The patients also may be offered organs, blood or blood products that were donated by people who have previously been vaccinated for Covid-19.
Of all the risks that this person was facing, the Covid vaccine wasn’t the most critical. But it remained her decision just as she could refuse a transplant or any other medical intervention for whatever reason. Consider Jehova’s Witnesses who refuse blood and blood products, the decision is theirs as is the outcome of these decisions. Politicians really need to stay out of these very difficult, very complex emotionally charged situations.
To be sure, accepting the Covid vaccine wouldn’t guarantee her survival, it just might have kept her on the waiting list.

@ Doreen Webb. Please read the article more thoroughly. This woman wasn't "perfectly healthy." She was on death's door and an organ transplant was deemed her best hope. The decision to withhold the transplant was made amongst very experienced, compassionate doctors who carry life and death decisions on their shoulders and who are caring for the organ transplant system that was developed over decades to direct its precious products to results that work most beneficially for society. The decision was obviously made first in full consultation with other doctors and the family.

The decision was NOT "political." That comment is very ideological and political and has nothing to do with medicine.

In the end, the thing is that there aren't enough transplant lungs to go around.

So the bottom line is, SOMEONE, who was ALSO going to die, got the pair of lungs Lewis would have gotten. That someone is more likely to survive the transplant than Lewis would have been, because they aren't refusing to do an important thing to keep their post-transplant body alive. So the doctors did the transplant on someone with like an 80% chance of surviving it instead of Lewis who had chosen to instead have like a 70% chance.

I wonder how that person, who would have died if Lewis had made the choice to get vaccinated and live, is doing. Of course if someone made their identity public, Conservatives would surely inundate them with death threats. Makes me wonder--by "right this wrong" what does that idiot mean? Does he want to rip the lungs out of the person who got them, exhume Lewis and stuff them in her? What?!

A broader side note on the whole situation: People have to deliberately choose to be organ donors, and most people don't bother. Organ donation should be automatic upon death unless the person deliberately chooses not to be one. That would help with the supply issues, and then maybe the conditions could be looser.

That idea will surely get challenged in court, even though it has great merit.

Ms Lewis's choice was, effectively, no different from an alcoholic with a diseased liver claiming that being denied a transplant for refusing to give up drinking was having their rights abused.

Imagine the uproar THAT would cause - particularly from the usual suspects.

Thanks for keeping the craziness front and center Max so we don't become TOO accustomed and inadvertently disappear down the vortex of tolerance in a progressive lather to accept any and all human rights, particularly in the context of religion, ensconced as it is in our Canadian ideal and beacon, "multiculturalism," putting aside completely that pesky root word "cult" nestled in there.
The Charter rights part of this particular case based on bodily autonomy is derivative and comes from attempting parity with women's "right to choose," paradoxically from the same group opposed to that, so very pleased to see recognition of the scam.
It also brings to mind the Jehovah's Witness cases where parents refused medical treatment of blood transfusions for their child because it goes against their "belief system" i.e. their religious doctrine, a particularly irrational one among the sea of nonsense religious doctrines consist of.
And those two lawyers, Carpay and the other one for the "Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms?" Disbarred for representing church pastors who refused to acknowledge the medical science of the pandemic, and for harassing the judge? An obvious lording of the "divine" law of religion over our paltry human rule of law, a logical action for people seized by an alternate reality with its alternate authority.
They've pretty well succeeded on that front in the States now with the Supreme Court staffed by a majority of Catholics, at the top of the hierarchy of the Christian religion, which is why Kenney, a staunch Catholic, could still call the upstart evangelicals of "Take Back Alberta" lunatics and still sound like the less "extreme" believer.
But the delusion is the same, and until we recognize the rotten albatross for what it is our democracy is in danger of becoming an ILLIBERAL one, which can precede a theocracy.

Well said Max. It's a matter of priorities. The transplant should go to someone who has a better chance of survival. Politicians have opinions, but as we all know some of those opinions aren't based on knowledge or valid information. It speaks to the weird notion that if I feel like something isn't right, then it can't be right. Facts and expert opinions are of no interest.

It seems that most Conservatives don't know the difference between beliefs/opinions and facts. We need to develop programs to educate the public about critical thinking particularly with regard to evaluating misinformation spread through social media. Finland has made great progress in addressing this issue.

She did it to herself So sad, too bad.