Coronavirus crisis cannot justify discrimination, bishops say

Washington D.C., Apr 3, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The coronavirus pandemic does not justify abandoning medical ethics, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops told medical professionals in an urgent warning issued on Friday.

“Every crisis produces fear, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception,” said a joint statement issued April 3 in response to reports of healthcare rationing plans being drawn up in different parts of the country.

“However, this is not a time to sideline our ethical and moral principles. 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 Rhoads of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who leads the USCCB’s doctrine committee, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, head of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB’s domestic justice and human development.

The bishops praised the “courage, compassion, and truly remarkable professional care” shown by medical workers “in a time of growing crisis.” At the same time, they encouraged them to steadfast in their principles, in the face of the challenges presented by the pandemic, including the shortage of essential medical supplies.

At least two states, Alabama and Washington, have been accused of drafting discriminatory guidance that would prioritize patients without disabilities over those with them, should there be a shortage of medical equipment, such as ventilators.

The several Catholic groups, as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), have condemned these proposals, pointing out they would violate human rights and anti-discrimination laws.

“Our belief in evidence-based clinical care and public health measures should be translated through the lens of Catholic medical ethics and social teaching with respect to justice and the just distribution of scarce resources,” said the Catholic Medical Association in a statement.

“Catholic social teaching is therefore predicated on these key principles: (1) the inherent and fundamental principle of the dignity of human life; (2) the principle of subsidiarity; and (3) the principle of solidarity.”

The Catholic Medical Association stressed in their statement that “God does not make man the arbiter of the value of life” and that “in humility the Catholic health care worker recognizes that no choice should be made that sacrifices the innate dignity of the individual human person, even when questions about scarce resources arise.”

The bishops said they were “grateful” for these statements, particularly the one from the Office of Civil Rights at HHS.

On Saturday, the civil rights office at HHS issued a bulletin stating that “In this time of emergency, the laudable goal of providing care quickly and efficiently must be guided by the fundamental principles of fairness, equality, and compassion that animate our civil rights laws.”

“As such, persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities,” the bulletin said.

“We also commend the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for issuing a reminder that in a time of crisis we must not discriminate against persons solely on the basis of disability or age by denying them medical care,” said the bishops.

“Good and just stewardship of resources cannot include ignoring those on the periphery of society, but must serve the common good of all, without categorically excluding people based on ability, financial resources, age, immigration status, or race.”

The bishops also wrote that even in a time of limited resources, medical professionals must keep the dignity of their patients in mind when making healthcare decisions. This care, they said, will often require that medical professionals consult with the patient and their loved ones in order to provide the best and most appropriate care.

“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,” they 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.”

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