The Current

Widow of alcoholic challenges policy for denying husband liver transplant

Debra Selkirk's husband Mark was denied the liver transplant he needed because he was an alcoholic. It's not an abstract ethical question for Debra Selkirk who lost her husband five years ago. And it leads to some very big questions when it comes to accessing health care.
Debra Selkirk, whose husband died of liver failure in 2010, has launched a constitutional challenge in Ontario to change their policy. "Universal health care is to save every life you can," she said. (Debra Selkirk )
"Mark has been gone for five years.If he'd been transplanted, there's a 78 - 92% chance he would be alive today, and maybe a 6 - 8 % chance that he'd be drinking.They ended his life on those kind of numbers."- Debra Selkirk's husband denied a liver transplant because he was an alcoholic

Toronto businessman Mark Selkirk got the bad news in 2010, when his doctors explained that he needed a liver transplant. But there was a complicating factor... making that bad news, even worse. Mr. Selkirk was an alcoholic. 

The rules in Ontario state that an alcoholic can only be considered for a liver transplant, if they go six months sober. At the time, Mr. Selkirk had been a mere six weeks dry — ruling him out. And seventeen days later, he died. 

Now his widow, Debra Selkirk, has launched a constitutional challenge in Ontario. She wants to change the policy. But her challenge goes beyond a single case, or a single rule, to some big questions for everyone about accessing health care. 

Debra Selkirk is the widow of Mark Selkirk. She joined Matt Galloway from Mississauga, Ontario. 

Of course the first rule of medicine is to 'do no harm'...and doing nothing for Debra Selkirk's husband, would seem to fly in the face of that. 

But medical professionals live in the real world where there will never be enough replacement organs for everyone who needs them. The scarcity gives rise to an ethical dilemma.

  • Francoise Baylis is a Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhouise University and the Canada Research Chair in Bioethics and Philosophy.
  • Arthur Schafer is the Director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba. 
  • Tim Caulfield is Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy and the Research Director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta.

Should alcoholics have same access to liver transplants as everyone else? 

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This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese and Julian Uzielli.