Unvaccinated Woman Facing Removal From Organ Transplant List to Appeal After Court Sides With Hospital

Unvaccinated Woman Facing Removal From Organ Transplant List to Appeal After Court Sides With Hospital
A courtroom at the Edmonton Law Courts building, in Edmonton, on June 28, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)
Andrew Chen

A terminally ill woman is appealing an Alberta court's decision to side with a hospital that will remove her from an organ transplant wait list because she refused COVID-19 vaccination.

Annette Lewis, who brought an application to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, sought an injunction against the Alberta Health Service (AHS) and six doctors on an organ transplant team at an unidentified hospital that refused to proceed with her medical procedure because she refused to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, says a court document.

Lewis said mandating COVID-19 vaccination as a prerequisite for a life-saving surgery is "a definitive violation of Ms. Lewis’ fundamental freedom of conscience" protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Edmonton Justice Paul Belzil, while saying Lewis's circumstance was "very sad," dismissed her application during an injunction hearing on July 12, noting that the charter "has no application to clinical treatment decisions."

Belzil said applying the charter to the clinical judgments of physicians would create “two classes” of organ recipients and result in “medical chaos with patients seeking endless judicial review of clinical treatment decisions.”

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which represents Lewis, said in a news release at the time that neither the treating physicians’ nor AHS’s COVID-19 vaccination policies for transplant patients were put in writing, and both were communicated to Lewis by her treating physicians.

The case is under a publication ban, preventing the disclosure of the names of the doctors, the hospital, the city where the transplant program is located, and the name of the organ that Lewis needs for life-saving surgery.

COVID-19 Vaccination

In 2018, Lewis was diagnosed with terminal idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a chronic lung disease, and was advised that she wouldn't survive without an organ transplant. After extensive tests, she was placed on a transplant wait list in June 2020.

Starting January 2020, Lewis was advised to receive a series of vaccinations, including childhood vaccinations, as her vaccination history was lost. She agreed and received multiple injections, according to court documents.

In March 2021, she was asked to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to receive the organ transplant, which she declined.

"Taking this vaccine offends my conscience. I ought to have the choice about what goes into my body, and a lifesaving treatment cannot be denied to me because I chose not to take an experimental treatment for a condition—COVID-19—which I do not have and which I may never have," she said in an affidavit.


According to the Edmonton Journal, Lewis's lawyers said in her notice of appeal that Justice Belzil had made legal errors in ruling that the COVID-19 vaccination requirement was a clinical decision, rather than an "imposition" carried out under AHS policy by physicians who are "state agents."

The appeal also reportedly said that Belzil was wrong to conclude COVID vaccines are safe and effective. In her ruling, the justice said there was "overwhelming evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and efficacious," but also added that this conclusion "is not universally accepted."

Lewis is asking the Alberta Court of Appeal to declare the COVID-19 vaccine requirement a “definitive violation of [her] fundamental freedom of conscience and rights to life, liberty, security of person, and to freedom from arbitrary discrimination.”

A court hearing of Lewis’s appeal has not been scheduled.