People with Down Syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy could be left to die under new coronavirus guidance
As the US struggles to deal with the rapidly growing outbreak of the coronavirus that has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, new guidance published in Alabama has disturbing repercussions. People with disabilities including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism could reportedly now be left to die of coronavirus under the new guidance on who doctors should prioritize for treatment.
According to Metro, US disability advocates say they have been disturbed by guidelines published by the state of Alabama on how to ration ventilators in the situation of a resource crunch. The guidelines reportedly say “persons with severe mental retardation, advanced dementia or severe traumatic brain injury may be poor candidates for ventilator support”.
The said guideline adds that “persons with severe or profound mental retardation, moderate to severe dementia, or catastrophic neurological complications such as persistent vegetative state are unlikely candidates for ventilator support.”
Metro reported that similar guidelines have been issued in Washington and Arizona, with medics in the latter state instructed to “allocate resources to patients whose need is greater or whose prognosis is more likely to result in a positive outcome with limited resources.”
Disability advocacy groups have now filed complaints against the US Department of Health and Human Services, seeking assurances that disabled people would not be discriminated against when it comes to receiving emergency care. These groups have argued that many of the seven million Americans who suffer from mental disabilities are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 already, claiming that they often live in group homes.
Disability rights advocates, according to a ProPublica report, cited the death of 67-year-old Emily Wallace, who suffered from Down syndrome and stayed in a group home in Georgia, an early warning sign of the dangers facing the community. In mid-March, Emily was the first person with an intellectual disability in her community (possibly one of the first in the US) to be diagnosed with COVID-19. She was taken to a local hospital where she died alone.
The groups further said disabled people may find it harder to comply with guidance about social distancing, hand-washing and wearing masks that are aimed at protecting themselves and others close to them from coronavirus.
While HHS spokesman Roger Severino insisted that US civil rights laws would “protect the equal dignity of every human being from ruthless utilitarianism”, experts have questioned whether those laws will still be applied during a nationwide medical crisis. Severino told ProPublica, "Persons with disabilities should not be put at the end of the line for health services based on stereotypes or discrimination, especially during emergencies. Our civil rights laws protect the equal dignity of every human being from ruthless utilitarianism."
Ari Ne’erman, a scholar at the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, said about this, “What we’re seeing here is a clash between disability rights law and ruthless utilitarian logic. What this is really about at the end of the day is whether our civil-rights laws still apply in a pandemic. I think that’s a pretty core question as to who we are as a country.”