People with disabilities deal with a lot of incorrect assumptions made by others – sometimes even by doctors. One of those assumptions is that their life is worse than that of a non-disabled person –- regardless of everything they may have going for them.
That can be a dangerous attitude for a doctor to have. That’s especially true in situations where hospitals are overwhelmed, access to health care providers, equipment and/or medications is limited. and doctors have to prioritize which patients receive needed care.
In fact, in the midst of the public health crisis last year, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights issued a bulletin stating that “persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities or age.”
A study found many doctors believe disabled patients have a poor quality of life
However, that attitude is very common. A recent survey of over 700 physicians in the U.S. found that over 80% believe people with a significant disability have a quality of life that’s either “a little worse” or even “a lot worse” than other people.
The study’s lead author thinks the responses of her fellow physicians were largely based on the fact that doctors “believe that they have an understanding of a disease that gives them a special ability to judge people’s lives.”
Denial of medical care isn’t the only potentially dangerous issue disabled patients face due to doctors’ stereotyping of them. They can misdiagnose or fail to diagnose a condition simply because they don’t believe a disabled person would have it.
This was exemplified by a woman with cerebral palsy in the 2020 Oscar-nominated Netflix documentary Crip Camp. She recounted how as a young woman she went to the hospital with serious pelvic pain. The surgeon diagnosed her with appendicitis and removed her perfectly healthy appendix. She actually had a sexually transmitted disease. She said, “They just couldn’t believe someone like me would be sexually active.”
If you or a loved one has been misdiagnosed or denied the medical care they deserve because of their disability (or any other reason), it’s wise to find out what legal options you have. You may be able to seek justice and compensation.