January 31, 2012
ATLANTA - Professors Wendy F. Hensel and Leslie E. Wolf traveled to present at the conference, "Every Body In," at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, in November 2011. The conference brought together scholars, practitioners, and advocates. Demand was so high for this Inaugural Disability Studies conference that registration was closed at 300.
In papers published in the Florida Law Review and PLoS Currents: Disasters, Hensel and Wolf analyzed protocols published by physician groups to govern allocation of scarce medical resources, such as ventilators, during a public health emergency such as pandemic flu and how they may violate federal antidiscrimination laws. [See previous news story here.] They are interested in how different legal structures and cultures may lead to different approaches to the issue of resource allocation and treatment of people with disabilities.
"Other countries, like New Zealand, have adopted antidiscrimination laws that, like our Americans with Disabilities Act, have the goal of providing equal access to services such as medical care," Hensel said, "so our legal analysis has resonance outside the United States."
Wolf added, "We have found that, even in countries that appear more sensitive to the ethical concerns, they often end up relying on the North American allocation protocols that we have criticized. For example, the New Zealand government articulated ethical values for a pandemic in a document called "Getting Through it Together" that explicitly recognizes the problem of using disability as a criterion for allocation, but ultimately left allocation decisions to doctors."
As Hensel and Wolf have highlighted, doctors are not immune from biases about disability, and such broad discretion allows those biases to enter into allocation decisions. "We would like to see more specific guidance, so that people with disabilities are not disadvantaged in a public health emergency when they could benefit from the medical care," Hensel commented.
Senior Administrative Coordinator