PJI Gets Patients Off Medical Death Row

Detroit, MI—In a resounding legal victory on behalf of people whose sincerely held religious beliefs have prevented them from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) has revised its policy requiring that transplant recipients be vaccinated.

The hospital’s new position comes after Pacific Justice Institute Michigan staff attorney David Peters filed a religious discrimination lawsuit on behalf of Ross Barranco and Kathleen Shier, both of whom had been removed from the university’s transplant waitlist as a result of their refusal to get the vaccine. Both plaintiffs attributed their objection to being vaccinated to their Catholic faith, and specifically to the use of fetal cell cultures in the vaccine’s development.

The two plaintiffs had each originally been notified of their placement on the national transplant waitlist, but Kathleen Shier was later notified that her acceptance as a heart transplant candidate would be made inactive unless she completed the COVID vaccine sequence, and Ross Barranco was similarly informed that unless he completed the series he would be removed from his position on the waitlist for a kidney. Both sought legal support from the Pacific Justice Institute, which filed the lawsuit on their behalf on June 23, 2022.

While the hospital asserted their right to exercise their discretion and “sound medical judgment” in determining transplant eligibility critieria, PJI argued that their position represented religious discrimination. Attorney David Peters noted that the policy had a “disparate impact” on Christians. In response to today’s news, Peters expressed his belief that the medical establishment is realizing that vaccines are “if not hurtful, useless.”

With the court date pending, the University of Michigan released a new policy which reversed its previous position. The statement reads, “The University hereby gives notice to the Court that in light of developing epidemiological and other actuarial circumstances, effective April 27, 2023, it has changed its Transplant Center COVID-19 Vaccination Requirement for Adult Transplant Candidates. Relevant to this litigation, COVID-19 vaccine will no longer be required prior to wait-listing of potential adult solid organ transplant recipients.”

Responding to the hospital’s retreat from its earlier position, PJI president Brad Dacus said, “We at PJI stand firm and fearless in protecting the rights of those who cannot defend themselves, even if that means taking on powers bigger than ourselves. These patients were sentenced to medical death row simply because of their faith. And because of the efforts of our attorneys and the work being done here at PJI, they now have a second bid at life.”