The March 17 editorial “Hospitals on the front lines as pandemic takes hold” highlights the importance of preparedness in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The editorial includes many sensible suggestions, such as canceling or postponing elective surgeries and repurposing hospital beds to expand ICU capacity. However, there is another crucial issue that requires immediate attention: ensuring nondiscrimination in the increasingly likely event that needs exceed scarce medical resources.
Recent proposals to ration access to ventilators and other scarce resources using criteria that disadvantage those with underlying conditions are a source of serious concern to people with disabilities and our allies. Should hospitals prioritize those with the least resource-intensive needs or exclude from access to life-sustaining care those with lower survival probabilities, they would be engaging in discrimination.
The disability community will aggressively push back against any attempt to ration care against the disabled, through advocacy and, where necessary, legal action. Hospitals and other providers should be aware: Even during a pandemic, any attempt to discriminate against the disabled will expose them to protest, liability, and the rightful condemnation of the public at large.
Disability Policy Consortium
Disability Law Center