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Civil rights leaders to DeSantis: Don't allow state to withhold care from disabled

Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI -- As fears of a catastrophic shortage or ventilators and other life-saving medical equipment loom, Florida's federally funded watchdog for disabled people is urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to ensure that, faced with unimaginable choices, doctors and hospitals don't engage in "eugenics" as they ration care.

Florida would not be the first state to develop guidelines for distributing respirators, beds and medication during a local or state shortage.

Alabama, Kansas, Tennessee and Washington already have drawn the ire of civil rights groups that claim those states are adopting protocols that permit withholding care from disabled people, including the withdrawal of ventilators from disabled people -- even people who have long relied upon the equipment.

"We generally acknowledge that decisions to prioritize access to essential treatment and life-saving medical equipment could soon be a necessary consideration," said the March 30 letter to DeSantis, written by two leaders of Disability Rights Florida, a federally chartered advocacy group.

"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."

Controversy over plans to deny life-saving care to disabled people first emerged in Washington, one of the first states to contemplate a shortage of resources. Advocates for disabled people there filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' civil rights office on March 23, after details of rationing plans by the University of Washington Medical Center and the state's health department became public.


The university's plan, advocates said, "gives priority to treating people who are younger and healthier, and leaves those who are older and sicker -- people with disabilities -- to die."

"We will not sit by as members of our community are left for dead," the advocates, including Disability Rights Washington and The Arc, a national group representing people with intellectual and other disabilities, wrote.

Few, if any, details are available for how health professionals in Florida are likely to distribute life-saving equipment or medication if scarcities arise.

Ken Goodman, director of the Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine, said, generally, decision-making will be influenced by such things as the Sequential Organ Failure Assessment, or SOFA, protocol, a well-established instrument for determining a patient's likelihood of dying. SOFA scores do not take into account such things as socioeconomic status, religion or disability.


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