ARTICLE

US Department of Health and Human Services

Group letter to Alex M. Azar II, Secretary, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

As you know, several U.S. jurisdictions have passed legislation giving doctors immunity from civil and criminal liability for assisting the suicide of persons diagnosed with terminal disabilities. Tragically, in these jurisdictions and for this class of persons, and for them alone, suicides are now facilitated by physicians, usually with no psychological assessment or other medical

Christian Medical & Dental Associations®

January 7, 2020

The Honorable Alex M. Azar II

Secretary U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Ave SW

Washington, DC 20201

 

Dear Secretary Azar: We are deeply grateful to you and your staff for your tireless efforts and unwavering commitment to protect human life at all its stages. It is out of this shared commitment to life and human dignity that we and our organizations write to you now on a matter of the utmost importance.

 

As you know, several U.S. jurisdictions have passed legislation giving doctors immunity from civil and criminal liability for assisting the suicide of persons diagnosed with terminal disabilities. Tragically, in these jurisdictions and for this class of persons, and for them alone, suicides are now facilitated by physicians, usually with no psychological assessment or other medical treatment, typically with no consultation with family and loved ones, and in every case without the interventions and protections provided as a matter of course to all other suicidal persons.

 

Though currently limited to a handful of states, the movement to assist the suicide of persons with terminal disabilities mirrors a growing prejudice against such persons that has affected medical practices nationally. Animating and underlying this prejudice is the deeply-offensive notion that persons with disabilities have lives less worth living than non-disabled persons, that disabled persons are, in a phrase, “better off dead.”

 

This alarming and growing prejudice has affected medical practices nationally in at least two specific areas.

 

First, persons with disabilities are increasingly refused the life-sustaining treatment and other medical care provided to similarly-situated non-disabled persons.

 

Second, as illustrated by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights’ intervention in at least one recent case, organ transplant providers have been discriminating against persons with disabilities by barring them from organ transplant lists despite the post-operative care and support system and other conditions that render them favorable candidates for such transplants.

 

Public policies that withhold from disabled persons the interventions and protections afforded to all other persons with suicidal impulses, or that refuse life-sustaining or other medical care to persons with disabilities, or that exclude them from organ donation lists, all because of a disability, violate section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, provisions that forbid discrimination on the basis of disability in health care and federally funded programs, respectively.

 

Section 1557 expressly confers upon HHS the authority to issue regulations to enforce its nondiscrimination provisions. It is critical, in our view, that HHS now exercise that authority by issuing regulations to address and forbid disparities in the provision of suicide prevention care and services, lifesustaining care, and organ transplants.

 

2 We understand from friends and allies that they and others in the disability rights community have also requested HHS’s intervention and regulation on these issues. In solidarity with them, we strongly support this action and join them in urging HHS to make such regulations a top priority.

 

We stand against discriminatory policies in the American health care system. We categorically reject their discriminatory and deadly premise, which is, at its root, that life with a disability is not worth living.

 

Discriminatory practices in the three areas described above threaten the civil rights and the very lives of persons with disabilities. We firmly support them and trust you will too by using the authority Congress vested in the Department to uphold their dignity and to protect their lives.

 

If it would be helpful, we would be happy to meet personally with you and others in the Department to discuss these matters further.

 

Sincerely,

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann Archbishop of Kansas City, KS Chairman, Committee on Pro-Life Activities United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Marjorie Dannenfelser President Susan B. Anthony List Carol Tobias President National Right to Life Committee Tim Chapman Executive Director Heritage Action for America Russell Moore President Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Catherine Glenn Foster President & CEO Americans United for Life Tom McClusky President March for Life Action Penny Young Nance CEO and President Concerned Women for America LAC Mike Chupp MD, FACS, FCS (ECSA) Chief Executive Officer Christian Medical & Dental Associations Michelle Cretella, MD Executive Director American College of Pediatricians Donna Harrison, MD Executive Director American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists Austin Ruse President Center for Family & Human Rights Charleen Katra Executive Director National Catholic Partnership on Disability John Schirger, MD President Catholic Medical Association Diana Ruzicka, MSN, MA, MA, RHN, RN President National Association of Catholic Nurses-USA Joseph Meaney, PhD President National Catholic Bioethics Center 3

 

CC: President Donald J. Trump Mr. Roger Severino, JD Director, HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Ms. Seema Verma, MPH Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)