The legal battle waged by a Canadian woman who refused to get the COVID vaccine required for organ transplant recipients came to an end after the Supreme Court of Canada decided against hearing her appeal.
On Thursday, the high court announced it would decline to hear Alberta woman Sheila Annette Lewis' case challenging the Alberta Health Services, an Alberta hospital and six doctors who removed her from a priority organ transplant waiting list because she was unwilling to get the shot. The doctors, hospital, city of the transplant program and organ that Lewis needs have not been released as the case is subject to a publication ban.
Lewis, who was diagnosed with a terminal disease in 2018 and was told she needed a transplant in order to survive, was placed on the wait list in May 2020. She was moved to the top of the list that October but was told in May 2021 that she would need to be vaccinated to maintain her place on the list.
She refused to get the vaccine, saying it violated her conscience, and was moved to the bottom of the list last November. In an affidavit that she "ought to have the choice about what goes into [her] body" and that requiring her to be vaccinated would violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Her efforts were unsuccessful at both the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench, which said the Charter did not apply to clinical treatment decisions, and the Alberta Court of Appeal, which upheld the lower court's decision. Lewis sought to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, which dismissed the case on Thursday.
Allison Pejovic, legal counsel provided to Lewis by the Justice Center for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), said that her client was "deeply disappointed" by Thursday's decision.
"[Lewis] 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," Pejovic said in a JCCF press release.
The JCCF said Lewis was not done fighting for lifesaving surgery despite the Supreme Court's dismissal. She has filed a separate legal action accusing the same defendants of negligence.
"She is accusing them of medical malpractice, and will ask the court at an upcoming injunction hearing to grant an immediate reinstatement to the high priority transplant list pending the result of the negligence action," JCCF said in a statement. The center intends to seek an injunction to immediately reinstate Lewis onto the transplant list pending the separate court action.
Newsweek reached out to the JCCF via email for comment.
When the Alberta Court of Appeal dismissed Lewis' case in November, the court said her case was "not the first time medical judgments about allocation of scarce resources have been made in the face of competing needs."
"While such decisions are doubtless exceedingly difficult, they nevertheless must be made," the court said, concluding that, "While Ms Lewis has the right to refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the charter cannot remediate the consequences of her choice."
Lawyers for AHS and the doctors cited a national consensus statement when defending the decision to move Lewis to the bottom of the list, noting that the analysis—which had been accepted by all other Canadian transplant programs—found a 25 to 30 percent mortality rate among patients who were infected with COVID after receiving a transplant.
They argued that because of the fragility and scarcity of organ transplants, programs needed to consider the needs of all patients when making those decisions.