The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

COVID impacted people with disabilities harder than other groups.

During the pandemic, healthcare resources were allocated in the United States to maximize the good for the greatest number of people. This rationing of healthcare adversely impacted people with disabilities because of certain assumptions about the quality of life, and social utility of people with disabilities.

The cumulative effect of these assumptions was the devaluation of life of people with disabilities and the denial of life-saving treatment by some healthcare administrators. The combination of activism by people with disabilities against this discriminatory rationing of healthcare resources and by various organizations including the World Health Organization and the National Council on Disability put pressure on healthcare administrators and policymakers to revise rationing policies and provide for legislation to safeguard people with disabilities from such policies in the future.

One such piece of legislation, Bill 1180, has been introduced by Josh Cutler of the Massachusetts House of Representatives which provides for measures such as making QALY (quality-adjusted life year) an unlawful standard for withholding treatment to a person with a disability during a pandemic or in similar circumstances.

I argue that the passing of this legislation is crucial for the judicious allocation of healthcare resources in the future as it relates to people with disabilities. My first argument is that any kind of health emergency impacts people with disabilities in disproportionate ways. For example, people with disabilities are generally more vulnerable to COVID-related illness as compared to non-disabled people. For example, according to one study, disabled women were 11.3 times more likely to die from COVID than their non-disabled peers.

My second argument is that the implementation of rationing of healthcare during the pandemic increased the preexisting vulnerabilities of people with disabilities. A report from 2021, found that people with disabilities faced a higher risk of being forced out of COVID treatment when hospital beds, supplies, and personnel were scarce.

Additionally, people with disabilities were denied ventilators and other lifesaving technologies and procedures after admission to hospitals. Additionally, people with disabilities were discriminated against by physicians during the pandemic. For example, more than 80% of U.S. physicians self-reported the belief that people with disabilities have the worst quality of life than non-disabled people. And only 56.5% of physicians strongly agreed that they welcomed patients with disabilities in their clinics during the pandemic.

My third argument is that the research has shown that there is a strong correlation between healthcare access and survival chances of disabled people during the pandemic, especially in cases where people with disabilities were provided ventilators and other lifesaving procedures and technologies.

Josh Cutler’s legislation, which I support, further protects a person with a disability from orders not to resuscitate and requires hospitals and physicians to make treatment decisions based on each individual case. Therefore, the legislation will ensure more equitable healthcare access to people with disabilities in the future.

Muhammad Azam is a development practitioner in Pakistan. He is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Sustainable International Development from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University. He is interested in land planning, digital geographies, and infrastructure-development.