Media release: Human rights must be protected in COVID-19

15 April 2020

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has welcomed a landmark statement by internationally-recognised human rights advocates calling for equal access to lifesaving medical treatment for people with disability during COVID-19.

Signatories to the Statement of Concern on COVID-19: Human rights, disability, and ethical decision-making include former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Inness AM; Vice-Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Rosemary Kayess; and Professor of Bioethics at UNSW Jackie Leach Scully FAcSS, FRSA.

The Statement was commissioned by People with Disability Australia, Women With Disabilities Australia, National Ethnic Disability Alliance, Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, First Peoples Disability Network and ACTCOSS.

The Statement includes a Framework of human rights principles for ethical decision-making that state:

  1. Health care should not be denied or limited to people with disability on the basis of impairment
  2. People with disability should have access to health care, including emergency and critical health care, on the basis of equality with others and based on objective and non-discriminatory clinical criteria
  3. Health care should not be denied or limited because a person with disability requires reasonable accommodation or adjustment
  4. Health care should be provided on the basis of free and informed consent of the person with disability
  5. Health care should not be denied or limited based on quality of life judgements about the person with disability
  6. Ethical decision-making frameworks should be designed with close consultation and active involvement of people with disability and their representative organisations.

ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell said: “The Statement of Concern follows advocacy from people with disability and their representative organisations. Australian governments must ensure COVID-19 public health responses do not discriminate against people with disability in decision making on access to life-saving medical treatment.

“People with disability are a high-risk group from COVID-19. They are at further risk from the pervasive devaluing of people with disability that leads to discrimination in access to life-saving health and medical services.

“ACTCOSS has been actively working to ensure that medical decision making during COVID-19 bases critical care decisions on the likelihood of recovery, not simply on an individual’s characteristics, including disability.

“ACTCOSS’s 2019 report Imagining Better highlighted discrimination in healthcare before the pandemic. Concerns about the prioritisation of care for people with disability during COVID-19 are well founded.

“Both the ACT Human Rights Act 2004 and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities require that human rights prevail in situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“ACTCOSS calls on the ACT to adopt the Framework of human rights principles for ethical decision-making.

“This morning ACTCOSS held a social media forum with Women with Disabilities ACT, Advocacy for Inclusion, the AIDS Action Council and A Gender Agenda where Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith affirmed that the treatment of people with disability in ACT Health’s operational planning will be grounded in equity and human rights.

“We also welcome Minister Suzanne Orr’s announcement that there will be a specific COVID-19 operational plan for people with disability in the ACT,” Dr Campbell said.

If you would like to support the Statement of Concern, please sign the petition.

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations.

For more information or comment, please contact

Dr Emma Campbell, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0424 910 617.

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