Doctors and Disability
We try to stay on top of hot topics on issues affecting people with disabilities, and readers know that these issues can range from the ADA to Emergency Preparedness to Assistive Technology to just
having fun in the community. This month’s front page, however, may surprise some readers.
No, I’m not on another of my preparedness soapboxes. The time for that was two years ago when medical authorities started discussing the real probability of a pandemic caused by Avian Flu. We are in the midst of a real pandemic caused by a different virus from a different source, so we need to think and talk about what to do now.
Two lessons should already be obvious. First, viruses can mutate in unexpected ways. Thus, “bird” flu is an afterthought to “swine” flu. Second, a pandemic can be a “mild” one depending on how a virus mutates. The lesson yet to be understood by most folks is that viruses, including this “2009 H1N1 Virus,” are constantly mutating. This “mild pandemic” could turn ugly and deadly with the click of a mutated gene.
So why should people with disabilities be concerned about being in a pandemic? Obviously trying to stay well and keeping loved ones well is common sense, but beyond that people with disabilities need to understand a couple of realities about a pandemics that are not mild. First, people die in mass numbers. Second, the health care system is overwhelmed and not everyone can be or will be treated. It is already known, for example, there are not enough ventilators in the health care system for the expected number of people who will need them. This will force doctors to decide who gets the vents. How will they decide? Ethically and unbiased, we hope. What frightens me, however, is a national survey taken just last year of doctors about their views of disability. An overwhelming majority doctors surveyed said that they rather die than face a life with a disability.
That result is surprising in itself. Doctors should know about all the advances in medicine, rehabilitation, and technology that brought disability out of the dark shadows of doom, gloom, and tragedy. Yet, faced with that prospect themselves, they want to pull their own plugs! Now, add to that attitude a shortage of hospital beds, ventilators, medicine, staffing, and even food, and maybe you can see why people with disabilities need to do everything possible to stay well in the midst of a pandemic. It is basic survival left in your own hands.
We need to value our health so that others do not get the opportunity to devalue our lives.