Advocates for people with disabilities filed a complaint Monday with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights over guidelines Washington is developing to ration novel coronavirus care if medical facilities get overwhelmed.
Such rationing of care would surely discriminate against disabled people — a violation of federal law, according to a letter sent by Disability Rights Washington, Self Advocates in Leadership, The Arc of the United States and an individual with a disability named Ivanova Smith.
“Washingtonians with disabilities will likely die if medical professionals are allowed to withhold health care services from them,” reads the letter of complaint.
It names the state Department of Health, the hospital coalition known as the Northwest Healthcare Response Network and the University of Washington Medical Center. None have yet responded to a request for comment.
With the pandemic and its response moving at lightning speed, the advocates wrote that the civil-rights office “has a very brief moment to intercede.”
The complaint cites reporting in The Seattle Times quoting Dr. Vicki Sakata, the senior medical adviser to the Northwest Health Care Response Network, about discussions underway. She said that guidelines for rationing care must be ethical. “But, make no mistake, it will not be pretty,” Sakata told The Times.
The complaint recognizes that the plan is still evolving. But it said that existing state guidance for triage teams recommends considering transferring hospital patients with “loss of reserves in energy, physical ability, cognition and general health” to outpatient or palliative care. And information coming from the state suggests that it will give “priority to treating people who are younger and healthier and leaves those who are older and sicker — people with disabilities — to die.”
The law does not allow treatment decisions that discriminate against the disabled to make “misguided assumptions that people with disabilities experience a lower quality of life, or that their lives are not worth living,” the complaint said, which added that the state’s plans are being made behind closed doors.