No Body Is Expendable: Medical Rationing and Disability Justice During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Erin E. Andrews- VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System, Harlingen, Texas, and The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School
- Kara B. Ayers- Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio, and University of Cincinnati
- Kathleen S. Brown- Fort Myers, Florida
- Dana S. Dunn- Moravian College
- Carrie R. Pilarski- University of Michigan
The health threat posed by the novel coronavirus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic has particular implications for people with disabilities, including vulnerability to exposure and complications, and concerns about the role of ableism in access to treatment and medical rationing decisions. Shortages of necessary medical equipment to treat COVID-19 have prompted triage guidelines outlining the ways in which lifesaving equipment, such as mechanical ventilators and intensive care unit beds, may need to be rationed among affected individuals. In this article, we explore the realities of medical rationing, and various approaches to triage and prioritization. We discuss the psychology of ableism, perceptions about quality of life, social determinants of health, and how attitudes toward disability can affect rationing decisions and access to care. In addition to the grassroots advocacy and activism undertaken by the disability community, psychology is rich in its contributions to the role of attitudes, prejudice, and discriminatory behavior on the social fabric of society. We call on psychologists to advocate for social justice in pandemic preparedness, promote disability justice in health care settings, call for transparency and accountability in rationing approaches, and support policy changes for macro- and micro-allocation strategies to proactively reduce the need for rationing.