Doctors Avoid Patients with Disabilities, Putting Many at Risk of Assisted Suicide

In the healthcare system, it does not take much to see that it is broken and disparities in care are prevalent.

A recent article demonstrates this fact by telling the findings of Dr. Iezzoni at Harvard. She conducted anonymous research on a sample case of doctors to see what they might say about patients with disabilities.

Shockingly, the doctors eventually admitted what people with disabilities have claimed was true: they would rather not see patients with disabilities and that they see their “quality of life” as less than non-disabled people.

This raises several concerns with the laws and practices of assisted suicide.

First, doctors who are not inclined to treat patients with disabilities and see their lives as less “quality” cannot be trusted to provide the full suite of care. If someone has a terminal illness such as cancer and has lost the ability to control bodily functions or live autonomously, healthcare providers ought to do everything they can to ensure the patient receives the same care and service that someone who does not have a disability would receive.

Second, doctors who do not want to see patients with disabilities demonstrate bias to patients, putting those who require more specialized care at risk of being convinced they are better off dead than disabled. A lack of desire to care for people with disabilities shows that doctors believe some people can receive basic healthcare, while others are dismissed or ignored because their care requires more attention, accommodations, and work.

Third, doctors who view life with disabilities as less “quality,” show that the healthcare system is rife with the subjective biases of doctors who may not spend extra time or money to care for those who may need it most. If a doctor avoids caring for a person suffering from a life-threatening disability, an incurable disease, as spinal cord injury, depression, cancer, or any other disability that requires more money, time, and attention than people without disabilities, the doctor sends the message that “you’re not worth it,” that the lives of people with disabilities is less worthy of care and healthcare dollar, better off dead.

“The focus group participants also raised communication difficulties — one doctor said he had hired a sign language interpreter for a deaf patient, a decision which cost so much that he lost $30 each time the patient visited. A specialist in one focus group said disabled patients took too much time, adding that they were ‘a disruption to clinic flow.’”

If healthcare providers are disinclined to put in the time, money, and energy while laying aside all bias to care for vulnerable patients, then many are put at risk of assisted suicide, driven to opt for death over subpar care and being treated as if they matter less.

Matt Vallière in the LA Times

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