Amnesty International joins call for Delilah Saunders to be put on liver transplant list

Supporters of a Labrador Inuk woman denied access to a liver transplant waitlist because of alcohol abuse rallied at Confederation Building in St. John's Friday.

Rallies held in St. John's and other cities, friends say Saunders getting another medical opinion

Friends of Delilah Saunders, left, an Inuk woman denied a liver transplant, rallied at Confederation Building Friday. (CBC)

Amnesty International is lending its voice to demands that Indigenous advocate Delilah Saunders be put on a waiting list for a liver transplant.

"We are deeply concerned that the decision to deny Delilah access to a liver transplant is on the basis of a policy which is discriminatory and inconsistent with Canada's international human rights obligations," Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, said in a news release Friday.

Saunders, 26, has been told she does not meet criteria set by the Trillium Gift of Life Network, the Ontario agency that manages organ transplants. But friends and family say she has been sober for about three months, half the sobriety benchmark required by the agency.

Supporters argue that Saunders, an Inuk woman from Labrador, is being penalized for her addiction, and point out that the family has already lost one daughter — Delilah's sister, Loretta Saunders, who was murdered in 2014.

She's been struggling on and off with alcohol since the death of her sister, according to her friend Amy Elson.

Saunders friends have said her liver problems may have been aggravated by acetaminophen that she was taking for chronic jaw pain.

Saunders's friend, Amy Elson, is asking that the transplant policy be changed. She was one of the people at a Friday vigil outside Confederation Building. (Ariana Kelland)

Delilah Saunders has advocated for the rights of Indigenous women and has been recognized for that by Amnesty International.

The human rights' organization is also urging that no one else be denied access to organ transplants for the same reasons.

Meanwhile, several rallies were held in different Canadian cities Friday, including at Confederation Building in St. John's.

"She's never really taken time for herself, she's always doing something for someone else," said Elson, who was one of about 10 people who braved the cold winds to support Saunders. 

Delilah Saunders was diagnosed with acute liver failure and remains in an Ottawa hospital, but isn't eligible for a transplant due to a history with alcohol use disorder. (CBC)

Saunders was medevaced to a Toronto hospital Friday morning, where she will be assessed by another liver specialist, Elson said.

'She's really scared'

Speaking to about half a dozen people at Confederation Building, Elson said her friend has been in and out of consciousness.

"She's really scared," Elson said.

"She has her whole life ahead of her ... and she deserves a shot and just because of policies, that doesn't make it OK for anyone to say, 'Oh no, we're not going to give her a chance.'"

'Marginal' improvement in health

On Friday evening, Saunders's lawyer, Caryma Sa'd, said Saunders's condition in hospital had improved slightly.

"Marginally, but improvements nonetheless," she said. 

She said that from speaking to Saunders's family members, the tone of the conversation with doctors seems to have "shifted quite a bit." Saunders is being assessed by doctors in order to determine whether a transplant is "necessary and viable," she said.

"The fact that we're now in a city where the procedure will be possible to do is also promising, although not determinative of anything," she said.

Sa'd believed demonstrations like the one at Confederation Building have helped the situation.

"It can be difficult when it's a David and Goliath situation, you're being told what you're being told by the doctors and it can feel like there's no recourse," she said. "They very much have brought public attention to this matter and I think that will make it easier to hold people accountable for any decisions that are made."

"That scrutiny can lead to better results."

With files from Ariana Kelland