As humans we possess a unique quality: intrinsic human dignity and value. I feel lucky simply to have been born. As human persons, we possess rights because we are human. However, today the human race is under attack. The COVID-19 pandemic brought destruction and chaos to global economies, governments, health care systems, and ultimately has called into question who the human person is. With the novel coronavirus attacking every aspect of our lives, we—as persons—must firmly uphold dignity and respect for all humans. However, as I turn on the news, I am saddened by what I see. While many doctors face difficult ethical decisions regarding the treatment of patients, one should never be denied healthcare because of age, race, sex, or disability. Who is one human to say that a certain type of life has priority over others?
Sadly, in countries like Italy, the elderly are being denied healthcare treatments because in the eyes of doctors, their lives are not “deemed worthy of intensive care.” Even in the United States, Crisis Standards of Care and Triage Care plans in Alabama and Arizona include language that could threaten the lives of the elderly and disabled and determine “which patients get critical care” amidst this world pandemic. Unfortunately today, the lives of the most vulnerable—those with mental or physical disabilities, or old age—are at risk for not receiving medical care in accord with their inherent human dignity.
In Texas, Michael Hickson, a 46-year-old male, died of COVID-19 on June 11, 2020, after physicians refused to treat him, leaving his wife Melissa a widow and his five children orphaned. Anyone would say that this is a horrible tragedy, and it is. Three years prior, Michael Hickson suffered a tragic accident at the age of 43 and became a quadriplegic. In May 2020, he contracted COVID-19 at his nursing home and later began to suffer from pneumonia that ultimately led to his death.
While Michael Hickson was gravely ill, he was never given the medical opportunity to live simply because he lacked the mobility of his body. His doctors refused to care for him and denied his wife’s supplications to give Michael basic nutrition and a drug that could potentially keep him alive. His doctors used the excuse that his “quality of life would not improve” because at that moment “Michael [didn’t] have much of” a life according to his physician. What happened to Michael Hickson is an unspeakable tragedy.
We as members of civil society must hold each other accountable in this time of uncertainty. Although many lives are lost because of a virus that is slowly attacking the human race, all doctors, nurses, and medical professionals have been given a great opportunity to uphold human dignity and to respect life in all forms. Politicians around the United States are pushing forth legislation to protect the lives and ensure the medical care of those who are elderly and those who have disabilities just like Michael Hickson had. This pandemic has called into question what true healthcare means. Instead of viewing a human as a commodity that serves society, we must strive to view the person as simply that—a person.
Published: July 22, 2020
Written by Giovanna Milano, a WYA North America intern