WASHINGTON (CNS) — National Right to Life April 16 praised the Federal Emergency Management Agency for issuing guidelines to ensure equal protection for all patients with COVID-19 to prevent rationing of health care.
“We thank President (Donald) Trump and FEMA Administrator Phil Gaynor for efforts to protect the most vulnerable in our society,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, adding that the guidelines “will help ensure that regardless of ability or disability, age, origin or chronic health issues, patients are treated equally.”
Titled “Ensuring Civil Rights During the COVID-19 Response,” the FEMA guidelines for its “state, local, tribal and territorial partners” were issued in its Civil Rights Bulletin. They state:
“Make medical treatment decisions, including denials of care under crisis standards of care and allocation of ventilators, after an individualized consideration of each person, free from stereotypes and biases, including generalizations and judgments about the individual’s quality of life or relative value to society, based on the individual’s disability, age, race, income level or any protected basis.
“This individualized consideration should be based on current objective medical evidence and the expressed views of the patients themselves as opposed to unfounded assumptions,” the guidelines said.
A couple of weeks before the FEMA guidance the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued its own.
Across the country, a critical shortage of personal protective equipment for medical personnel who are treating patients who have the highly contagious virus as well as a lack of equipment such as ventilators has prompted some U.S. hospitals to consider instituting a blanket DNR, or “do not resuscitate” order, for COVID-19 patients despite their wishes or those of their family.
“Our health care system is designed to save lives,” Tobias said in her statement. “No one facing the serious health issues from a coronavirus diagnosis should worry about whether they will receive the care they need because of their age or disability.”
On April 3 the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a joint statement on the fear the coronavirus pandemic is creating about limited resources for treating patients, especially the most seriously ill.
But “this is not a time to sideline our ethical and moral principles,” the bishops said. “It is a time to uphold them ever more strongly, for they will critically assist us in steering through these trying times.”
The statement was signed by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine; Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; and Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.”
“Foremost in our approach to limited resources is to always keep in mind the dignity of each person and our obligation to care for the sick and dying,” the prelates said. “Such care, however, will require patients, their families, and medical professionals to work together in weighing the benefits and burdens of care, the needs and safety of everyone, and how to distribute resources in a prudent, just and unbiased way.”
Bishop Rhoades and Archbishops Naumann and Coakley praised hospitals and medical personnel for their courage and compassion in treating the nation’s COVID-19 patients.
“Hospitals and health care systems are the true epicenter of this pandemic and our health care professionals — doctors, nurses, technicians, administrators and support staff — have all demonstrated courage, compassion, and truly remarkable professional care in a time of growing crisis.
They acknowledged the difficult decisions about care confronting these health care workers, and urged them to read a number of important statements from Catholic health care and medical ethical organizations reminding them — and the general public — of ethical and moral principles to be applied in these difficult circumstances.
“The Catholic Health Association of the United States, the Catholic Medical Association, the National Association of Catholic Nurses-USA, and the National Catholic Bioethics Center have all published excellent reminders of these principles and guidelines,” they said. “We ask people, especially medical professionals, to read these documents and apply them appropriately in their work.”
The statements they cited can be found online at these organizations’ respective websites: Catholic Health Association, https://www.chausa.org; Catholic Medical Association, https://www.cathmed.org; National Association of Catholic Nurses-USA, https://nacn-usa.org; and National Catholic Bioethics Center, https://www.ncbcenter.org.
Others urging ethical decision-making with regard to providing care for all COVID patients and calling for the rejection of any moves toward rationing such care include Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York.
“I sit here in New York, the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis. It is imperative to provide our exhausted health care heroes with the tools they need to be able to make true and sound ethical decisions to all patients in their care,” he said in a recent statement. “I join together with the NCBC (National Catholic Bioethics Center) ethicists, and others, in asking that all people are treated equally and with the God-given dignity they deserve.”
Added Louis Brown, executive director of the Christ Medicus Foundation: “A crisis that involves triage may strain our resources, but it cannot strain our values. We call on every hospital and health care center to act now to ensure that those rights are robustly protected and that the value of every human life is respected.”