Preventing Discrimination in the Treatment of COVID-19 Patients: The Illegality of Medical Rationing on the Basis of Disability

As the COVID-19 crisis amplifies in the United States, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (“DREDF”) reminds lawmakers and providers of health care, education, transportation, housing, and other critical services of their duty to uphold the civil and human rights of people with disabilities.

In the face of a public health crisis, where projections show that the need for intensive medical care for individuals made ill by COVID-19 may far exceed the resources of the U.S. healthcare system, the inclination of healthcare providers may be to take “rationing” measures or rather, make decisions about who should or should not receive care and, if they do, what level of care. While COVID-19 poses a serious challenge to the capacity and resources of our healthcare system, DREDF reminds healthcare providers that longstanding federal and state nondiscrimination laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, and California Government Code Section 11135, prohibit such rationing measures when they result in the denial of care on the basis of disability to an individual who would benefit from it.

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