The director of the federal health department’s civil rights office said on Saturday that his office was opening a series of civil rights investigations to ensure that states did not allow medical providers to discriminate on the basis of disabilities, race, age or certain other factors when deciding who would receive lifesaving medical care during the coronavirus emergency.
The office released a new bulletin on civil rights during the coronavirus crisis, days after disability rights advocates filed complaints arguing that protocols to ration lifesaving medical care adopted by Alabama and Washington State were discriminatory.
“Our civil rights laws protect the equal dignity of every human life from ruthless utilitarianism,” Roger Severino, the office’s director, said in a news release. “Persons with disabilities, with limited English skills and older persons should not be put at the end of the line for health care during emergencies.”
Mr. Severino said in an interview that in response to multiple complaints, his office was opening the investigations to ensure that state-mandated rationing plans “are fully compliant with civil rights law.” He said his office had heard from “a broad spectrum of civil rights groups, pro-life groups, disability rights groups, from prominent members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, from ordinary people who are concerned about their civil rights in this time of crisis.”
The bulletin “represents an important first step in protecting the rights of people with disabilities in the current crisis,” said Ari Ne’eman, a visiting scholar at the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy at Brandeis University and a senior research associate at the Harvard Law School Project on Disability. He said there was an “urgent need for comprehensive guidance.”
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