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Disability Rights Florida Calls Upon the Governor to Stop Deadly Discrimination Against People with Disabilities Amid COVID-19 Care Before it Starts

Tuesday, March 31, 2020


Tallahassee, FL – With a sense of extreme urgency, Disability Rights Florida sent Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Executive Office of the Governor a letter requesting the State of Florida immediately take affirmative action prohibiting the discriminatory rationing of life-saving medical equipment throughout the duration of the COVID-19 emergency.

Attached to this letter is guidance issued this weekend by the federal Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reiterating that federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability remain in effect during the crisis and, as such, “persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities.”

Amidst legal challenges and related public outcry to efforts elsewhere in the nation to contemplate or institute medical rationing protocol within emergency preparedness planning, the letter called upon the State of Florida to “lead by example in ensuring that all relevant portions of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibiting discrimination in the provision of life-saving medical care are upheld and complied with during this crisis.”

Consistent with similar calls[1] from partner and affiliate organizations nationwide, Disability Rights Florida urges the state to immediately adopt and disseminate mandatory statewide guidelines affirming its commitment to promoting and ensuring relevant legal protections which:

  1. require government decisions regarding the allocation of treatment and life-saving resources to be made based on individualized determinations using current objective medical evidence, rather than generalized assumptions about a person’s disability;
  2. prohibit treatment allocation decisions based on misguided assumptions that people with disabilities experience a lower quality of life, or that their lives are not worth living;
  3. prohibit treatment allocation decisions based on the perception that a person with a disability has a lower prospect of survival;
  4. prohibit treatment allocation decisions based on the perception that a person’s disability will require the use of greater treatment resources; and
  5. clarify that a person is “qualified” for purposes of receiving COVID-19 treatment if he or she can benefit from the treatment (that is, can recover) and the treatment is not contraindicated.

The letter follows a complaint filed by Disability Rights Washington with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office last week in response to a guidance distributed by the Washington Department of Health that recommend hospital triage teams consider transferring patients with “loss of reserves in energy, physical ability, cognition, and general health” to outpatient or palliative care, rather than continuing to treat them. As well as other states’ guidance regarding ventilator rationing plans that discriminate against people with disabilities.

DRF Interim Executive Director Pete Sleasman warned in the letter, “If allocation of treatment and life-saving resources becomes necessary, the State has an obligation to ensure that prioritizations are administered ethically and in a way that respects the basic civil and constitutional rights of persons with disabilities. Such decisions cannot be left to individual hospitals or physicians tasked with making operational judgment calls in the heat of an overwhelming health care crisis.”

Founded in 1977, Disability Rights Florida is the state’s federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) system, providing free-and-confidential legal and advocacy services for the benefit of all persons with disabilities in the state through authority maintained across nine federal grants.

Contact: Robin Kocher, Director of Communications & Outreach
(850) 617-9762

Tags for this Post

coronavirus, discrimination, healthcare,

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