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The Journal of Philosophy of Disability

Volume 1, 2021

Joseph J. Fins
Pages 211-229

Disorders of Consciousness, Disability Rights and Triage During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Even the Best of Intentions Can Lead to Bias

As a member of the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law and the author of Rights Come to Mind: Brain Injury, Ethics and the Struggle for Consciousness, the author draws upon his work as a clinical ethicist during the COVID-19 Spring surge in New York to analyze the impact of ventilator allocation guidelines proposed by the Task Force on people with disorders of consciousness. While a non-discriminatory methodology was intended by the Task Force, the author concludes that the guidelines would have discriminated against people with disorders of consciousness had they been promulgated. This was due to errors in exclusion criteria, the utilization of the Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) score, and the Glasgow Coma Scale which assesses motor output and not consciousness. While allocation and triage decisions may be neccessary during a pandemic, the ethical integrity of these determinations depend upon proper metrics.