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Chicago City Wire

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Second-tier elderly, disabled treatment during coronavirus emergency violates federal law, rights groups say

Local Government

By W.J. Kennedy | Mar 26, 2020

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Coronavirus | Adobe Stock

Alarmed by reports that care for the elderly and disabled might be rationed during the coronavirus emergency, a public interest law firm and civil rights group issued a joint legal memo warning officials that prioritizing treatment violates federal law.

The March 23 memo published by Chicago-based Thomas More Society (TMS), along with California-based civil rights group, Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, said that any policy relegating older or disabled Americans to second-tier care would violate federal civil rights statutes prohibiting discrimination. Policies implemented by state officials are also covered under the laws.

“It’s frightening when you see government officials talking about implementing policy concerning the rationing of care,” Peter Breen, Vice President and TMS Senior Counsel told Prairie State Wire. “This continues the concept of death panels brought out under Obamacare.”


Peter Breen | Edwardsville Intelligencer

On March 22, the Anchorage Daily News published a report on Washington state officials meeting to consider “how to decide who lives and dies” if the state’s health care system becomes overwhelmed.

The article cited a New York Times story reporting that a “plan [in Washington state] will assess factors such as age, health and likelihood of survival in determining who will get access to full care and who will merely be provided comfort care, with the expectation that they will die.”

Charles LiMandri, partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP and Special Counsel for the two groups, said that anyone establishing such a policy would be exposed to legal action.

“The present pandemic may be used to try to justify the ‘hard decision’ to issue policies rationing care on the basis of disability or age,” LiMandri said in a statement released with the legal memo. “Doing so, however, would violate federal law regarding invidious discrimination. It will open up the purveyors of those policies to legal liability.”

He added that anyone making decisions concerning who receives such life-saving care, “including the use of a limited supply of respirators, would be wise to heed this advice.”

Breen said that one positive from reports of prioritizing health care is that “people who believe life has dignity at all stages of development can now address the issue head on.”

“Maybe we can’t put this concept of rationing health care to bed once and for all,” he said.

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