Human Rights Court to Hear Case of Atheist Nurse Forced to Attend AA to Keep Job June 13, 2019

Human Rights Court to Hear Case of Atheist Nurse Forced to Attend AA to Keep Job

Byron Wood, a nurse from Vancouver, was going through a rough time in his life a few years ago when he began drinking and doing drugs. After one particularly bad night, he went to a local clinic, where a doctor committed him to a hospital. Wood became a “non-practicing” nurse in that time, with the understanding that once he completed a recovery program, he’d be able to practice again.

The problem with that plan was that joining Alcoholics Anonymous was part of the rehabilitation process his union required:

… Wood attended a residential treatment program in Ontario in the spring 2014, staying for five weeks, though he took issue with their methods.

“If I questioned the 12-step philosophy or tried to discuss scientific explanations and treatments for addiction, I was labelled as ‘in denial’,” Wood said. “I was told to admit that I am powerless, and to submit to a higher power. It was unhelpful and humiliating.

“There was a mentality among staff that addiction is a moral failing in need of salvation. We were encouraged to pray.

Wood is an atheist and he didn’t like the idea of submitting to a Higher Power. His recovery wasn’t dependent on giving himself over to anyone but himself. He attended AA for a while but soon stopped. And because of that, he was fired. (Officially, it was changed to a “resignation” the following month.)

He later filed a Human Rights complaint against the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and the B.C. Nurses’ Union saying they discriminated against him because of his atheism. By forcing him to go through a religious treatment program — when secular, scientific alternatives were readily available — they were essentially punishing him for not believing in a God.

As you might expect, the VCH tried to dismiss Wood’s complaint. Yesterday, however, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal refused to throw it out, saying he was raising a reasonable concern. It’s not a victory. Not yet. But this is a key step in that process.

The tribunal has not [previously] considered whether the 12‐step program utilized by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous … may discriminate against persons with substance abuse disorders who are atheists,” tribunal member Walter Rilkoff wrote.

“In my view, there is a public interest in addressing that issue.”

In its submissions to the tribunal, VCH argued the treatment plan designed for Wood was reasonable and supported by medical experts.

But Rilkoff said expert opinions weren’t enough.

Relying on medical opinions is not a sufficient defence if the medical recommendations are themselves discriminatory … VCH cannot avoid liability if it relies on discriminatory advice,” the decision says.

Wood has a different job these days though he misses nursing. The saddest thing about this is that he did nothing wrong in terms of his recovery but was still punished because he wasn’t willing to lie about the efficacy of a religious treatment program. It’s a travesty. The government shouldn’t allow it to happen to anyone else.

(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier)

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