Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 1, 2020 / 15:00 pm
Ethicists and disability rights activists have expressed grave concerns over reports of the recent death of Michael Hickson, a black man with quadriplegia and a brain injury who was denied medical treatment due to his disabilities.
Hickson, 46, died on June 11, six days after a doctor at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center told Hickson’s wife, Melissa, that he did not think that Michael had a quality of life due to his disabilities and would therefore not receive medical treatment, he was subsequently transferred to hospice care. Melissa recorded the conversation, and the video was posted on YouTube.
Michael was admitted to the medical center after he contracted COVID-19 and pneumonia at the nursing home where he lived.
Dr. John Di Camillo, and ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center told CNA that denying care based solely on a disability or presumptions about a patient’s quality of life is an “affront to the dignity of the human person and a tragedy of medical ethics.”
“A patient or surrogate decision-maker has the moral option to decline treatments that are extraordinarily burdensome or minimally beneficial,” Di Camillo said, “and clinicians have the duty to convey facts, expectations, and recommendations, but a refusal of care based on quality of life alone simply should not happen.”
Dr. Harold Braswell, an bioethicist at St. Louis University, told CNA that while he cannot be sure what the doctor in the video was thinking, “given the objections of the family [...] and a general tendency among health care professionals to underestimate quality of life among disabled people, it’s grounds for concern.”
“Disability rights advocates have almost universally opposed ‘quality of life’ as a criteria for making triage decisions during COVID-19,” said Braswell, and that the preferred metric for triage is “survivability.” “Survivability” refers to the chance that a person will survive the medical interventions.
“But survivability doesn't seem to be an issue in this case--hence Mrs. Hickson's surprise that her husband was being put on ‘hospice,’” said Braswell. He called the citation of “quality of life” a “big red flag.”