ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
NEWS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 21, 2020 Toronto: Could it soon be that if COVID-19 overwhelms Ontario hospitals, doctors could be told to decide to select some critical care patients to be taken off life-saving critical care that the patients are receiving, still need and want, on the ground that these services must be rationed and given to some other patients? Could a patient who objects to critical care being withdrawn from them be denied a right of appeal to an independent court or tribunal, even though their life is endangered? Could the health professionals making such decisions be insulated from any liability for their actions?
Despite excitement over new vaccines, frightening unreported new details have emerged that would allow all of this to happen, if the record-breaking surge in COVID-19 cases requires hospitals to ration or “triage” life-saving critical care services and beds. The Ford Government is considering a recommendation, made public on the AODA Alliance website, to direct doctors to remove life-saving critical care from some patients already in intensive care who don’t consent to this, if triage becomes necessary. This is even worse than rationing scarce unfilled critical care beds when more patients need them than there are available services.
“Ford’s Government hasn’t shown it has legislative authority to take the drastic, highly-objectionable actions that it is considering,” said David Lepofsky, Chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance that allies with other disability advocates to protect patients with disabilities against discrimination if triage becomes necessary. “Triage recommendations that Ford’s Government is considering just came to light in the past days, and only because disability advocates campaigned for three months to get the Government to reveal those secret recommendations.”
In those newly revealed September 11, 2020 recommendations, the Government’s external advisory Bioethics Table commendably called on the Government to rescind the Government’s controversial earlier March 28, 2020 critical triage protocol that it had sent Ontario hospitals last spring, because that protocol discriminated against patients based on their disabilities a concern disability advocates have pressed since April. But last Thursday, at a rushed roundtable that the Ontario Human Rights Commission held with disability, racialized and Indigenous communities’ representatives, those community representatives said the newly revealed triage recommendations, while an improvement, also have numerous human rights problems, even though the recommendations say that human rights should be respected.
These new triage recommendations would give patients, whose lives are in jeopardy, no appeal beyond the health care system (e.g., to an independent tribunal or court). They would insulate health care professionals against liability for refusing or withdrawing life-saving critical care.
On October 29, 2020, the Government, under pressure from people with disabilities and seniors, belatedly rescinded its discriminatory March 28, 2020 triage protocol, but put nothing in place to fill the vacuum. The time when critical care triage may be needed is rapidly getting closer. Health Minister Christine Elliott hasn’t answered any of the six successive AODA Alliance letters to her extensively detailing our concerns.
At last Thursday’s roundtable, a Government representative spoke up for the first time, revealing more disturbing news. A member of the Ford Government’s internal “Critical Care Command Table” responded to feedback at the roundtable, saying that a new approach to triage, addressing human rights concerns raised at the roundtable (with which he seemed to find merit), would have to wait until after this pandemic is over.
“That’s like saying we can be given an umbrella only after the rain has stopped. After months of the Government delaying, refusing to talk to us, and hiding behind its external advisory Bioethics Table for months, we cannot accept that it is now too late to ensure that critical care triage, if necessary, cannot be done without disability discrimination,” said Lepofsky. “We need the Ford Government to speak directly to us, and to obey the Ontario Human Rights Code and Charter of Rights.”
Contact: AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, firstname.lastname@example.org For more background on this issue, check out:
1. The Government’s external advisory Bioethics Table’s September 11, 2020 draft critical care triage protocol, finally revealed days ago.
2. The December 3, 2020 open letter to the Ford Government from 64 community organizations, calling for the Government to make public the secret report on critical care triage from the Government-appointed Bioethics Table.
3. The AODA Alliance’s unanswered September 25, 2020 letter, its November 2, 2020 letter, its November 9, 2020 letter, its December 7, 2020 letter, its December 15, 2020 letter and its December 17, 2020 letter to Health Minister Christine Elliott.
4. The August 30, 2020 AODA Alliance submission to the Ford Government’s Bioethics Table, and a captioned online video of the AODA Alliance’s August 31, 2020 oral presentation to the Bioethics Table on disability discrimination concerns in critical care triage.
5. The September 1, 2020 submission and July 20, 2020 submission by the ARCH Disability Law Centre to the Bioethics Table.
6. The November 5, 2020 captioned online speech by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on the disability rights concerns with Ontario’s critical care triage protocol.
7. The AODA Alliance website’s health care page, detailing its efforts to tear down barriers in the health care system facing patients with disabilities, and our COVID-19 page, detailing our efforts to address the needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.