People with autism and other disabilities have faced discrimination in organ transplants. Now they face discrimination in the availability of ventilators.
Amy Silverman at Pro Publica:
Advocates for people with intellectual disabilities are concerned that those with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and other such conditions will be denied access to lifesaving medical treatment as the COVID-19 outbreak spreads across the country.
Several disability advocacy organizations filed complaints this week with the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, asking the federal government to clarify provisions of the disaster preparedness plans for the states of Washington and Alabama.
The advocates say the plans discriminate against people with intellectual disabilities by deprioritizing this group in the event of rationing of medical care — specifically, access to ventilators, which are in high demand in treating COVID-19 cases. More than 7 million people in the U.S. have some form of cognitive disability.
Some state plans make clear that people with cognitive issues are a lower priority for lifesaving treatment. For instance, Alabama’s plan says that “persons with severe mental retardation, advanced dementia or severe traumatic brain injury may be poor candidates for ventilator support.” Another part says 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.”
“What we’re seeing here is a clash between disability rights law and ruthless utilitarian logic,” said Ari Ne’eman, a visiting scholar at the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy at Brandeis University. “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.”