faith in action

A Call for United Methodists to Combat Life Threatening Ableism in Healthcare

Persistent bias and unchecked ableism have spurred historic proposed rule changes in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act in order to stop discrimination on the basis of disability in health and human service programs.

civil and human rights brand

On September 7, 2023, the Biden Administration announced a sweeping renewal of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the provision of Federally funded programs and activities. The Rehabilitation Act was the first civil rights legislation intended to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. After forty years, the Rehabilitation Act still lacks adequate enforcement of these protections, particularly in the healthcare industry.

Devastating Consequences of Ableism in Health Care

Significant and recent medical research exposes the devastating consequences of ableism in the field of healthcare, bringing to the forefront the very real vulnerability of people with disabilities as they seek essential preventative, primary, and specialty health services.

One recent study from the American Psychological Association revealed harmful explicit and implicit bias by health care providers, who perceive people with disabilities as having a lower quality of life because of their disability. On the contrary, people with disabilities consistently report having an excellent or good quality of life.

Another alarming study in 2021, from the National Library of Medicine, documents physicians’ perceptions of people with disabilities and their health care practice. Only 40.7% of physicians surveyed were confident of their ability to provide the same quality of care to patients with disabilities. In addition, only 56.5% strongly agreed that they welcome patients with disabilities into their practices.

These attitudes rooted in biases and stereotypes not only impact how medical professionals interact with people with disabilities, but also how they structure their office practices, select essential equipment and technology, and determine who will benefit from which life-critical medical interventions.

As United Methodists, we are called “to stand alongside people with disabilities, take action and speak out on their rights in society,” (Book of Resolutions ¶3302).

Support The Proposed Section 504 Rule Changes To:

Prohibit medical decisions based on biases and stereotypes, on judgments that assert that an individual is or will be a burden on others, or on measurements that conclude the life of a person with a disability is of less value than the life of a person without a disability. Unchecked, such discrimination has resulted in denials of life-sustaining treatments, medical rationing, and withholding of organ transplants.

Require medical offices and facilities have accessible equipment and technological infrastructure such as exam tables, screen equipment, and weight scales. For example, lack of such basic items has left people with disabilities unable to get preventative services as fundamental as mammograms and pap smears.

Obligate medical providers to ensure their Web-based, mobile, and kiosk services are accessible by adopting content accessibility guidelines.

Prioritize the provision of services in the most integrated setting appropriate for the individual, consistent with the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision that enables people with disabilities to avoid preventable institutionalization.

Prevent the use of discriminatory “value assessment methods” that limit or deny access to essential medications, treatments, equipment/aids, benefits, and services by people with disabilities by asserting that the costs of such outweigh the value added to their life. People with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to such institutional cost-containment measures by sheer frequency of occurrence and by category of incidence.

We must act now to support historic, proposed rule changes

Take action before November 13, 2023.

Combatting ableism by targeting life-critical changes in the provision of healthcare is a Gospel imperative. Add your voice to the chorus of the faithful calling for these historic changes to Section 504 by providing your comments before November 13.

You can share your comments by going directly to the Federal Register (Docket ID Number HHS–OCR–2023–0013 - Discrimination on the Basis of Disability in Health and Human Service Programs or Activities). Select the “comment” button on the top left portion of the page for comments.

But don’t stop there. Share with your congregation’s clergy and lay leadership. Speak out against ableism both in church and in society and invite everyone to actively support life-affirming actions such as the proposed rule changes to Section 504.

Together we can advance God’s promises of shalom through the celebration of universal human dignity.