Hospitals, other health care providers and governing bodies must respect the civil rights of all citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes citizens with disabilities, especially in regard to access to health care.

 

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued a bulletin to health and governmental authorities to heed their obligations under federal laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination based on disability. Included in the bulletin was this clear directive: “… persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative “worth” based on the presence or absence of disabilities.”

 

Yet, every day there are reports across the country about health care rationing guidelines, proposed or in place, that are clearly discriminatory toward people with disabilities. Some of the policies exclude patients with certain diagnoses from eligibility for ICU or ventilator care, based on biased “value of life” judgments rather than whether a patient is likely to respond to treatment. Other guidelines rely on outdated beliefs about certain conditions or a failure to recognize that many people with disabilities enjoy a typical life span.

 

Throughout history, people with disabilities have been marginalized and stigmatized. In ancient times, they were often viewed as “possessed” and were scorned, persecuted and sometimes murdered. In modern times, people with disabilities have been pitied, segregated, institutionalized, exploited, abused and neglected. The stereotyping of people with disabilities has also negatively affected their access to quality health care, and in some instances, has resulted in blatant denial of care. Such discrimination is not only immoral, it is illegal.
-Sherri Boyd is the executive director of the Arc Michigan.