The COVID-19 pandemic, specifically its shortage of critical medical supplies to treat patients, is exposing an additional dark side to this crisis.
Coronavirus is placing vulnerable Americans at risk who by no fault of their own may be denied life-saving treatment should they contract it.
The potential shortage of ventilators has many questioning which patients will be forced to bear the brunt of rationing in ICU’s across the nation. Those most at risk are our nation’s chronically ill, disabled and aged.
The Center for Public Integrity did an analysis of how states would ration ventilators if push came to shove and the patients outnumbered the tools to keep them alive. The guidelines are a mixture of those recently developed to respond to the coronavirus and others that have been established for years.
Their findings were chilling. Here are some of the highlights.
30 states had policies and guidelines, and all but five of them included prerequisites that placed individuals with disabilities low on the priority list to receive a ventilator.
Half of these states had provisions that according to disability advocates violate the civil rights of those with disabilities.
The remaining 20 states either don’t have established guidelines or haven’t released them, unsettling considering experts feel strongly that these policies need to be in place before a crisis occurs, and above all, they should not be cloaked in secrecy. Further, they should be clear to patients and/or their family members.
Approximately 67% of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. This appalling statistic reflects stereotypes and outdated, false information pushed by doctors and other medical professionals. There is reason to believe that without specific, life-affirming guidelines, unfounded biases against people with disabilities will be incorporated into critical care for COVID-19 victims.
Instead of making discriminatory decisions regarding patients with disabilities and chronic illnesses, policies should be based on the likelihood of a patient surviving the disease for which they are being treated.
For example, Alaska, Florida, Oklahoma, Vermont and Wisconsin indicate patients with cystic fibrosis, a disease of the lungs, should be a lower priority for receiving a ventilator, even though there is no medical evidence to support this policy.
Patients should be treated on a case-by-case basis, the same way any other patient would be treated.
Thirteen states said patients who depend upon daily assistance at home or would later utilize more medical resources are seen as poor candidates for COVID-19 treatment.
Until recently, Alabama’s website stated ventilators should be withheld from people with “severe mental retardation” should there be a shortage. Individuals with Down syndrome and their families are rightfully concerned that COVID-19 is more of a threat to people with disabilities because they may face life-ending discrimination in the ICU.
Pennsylvania, the University of New Mexico Health System, California’s Memorial Care Long Beach Medical Center and UCLA Health have not released their guidelines. This is likely to breed distrust among the populations they serve who may ask, “What are they hiding?”
Charlotte Lozier Institute recently posted an excellent article titled The Coronavirus Pandemic and the Ethics of Triage, providing a life-affirming approach to treating patients during this pandemic.
People with disabilities, chronic health issues or who are elderly are at particular risk when it comes to receiving adequate care during a pandemic. As the evidence shows, these patients and their family members need to be extra vigilant.