Statement on the Death of Michael Hickson

The Center for Dignity in Healthcare for People with Disabilities mourns the death of Michael Hickson, a 46-year-old man, husband, and father of five. Mr. Hickson was a Black man who acquired spinal cord and brain injuries in 2017 after a sudden cardiac arrest. Like so many in our country ravaged by the current pandemic, Mr. Hickson sought care from his local hospital for treatment for COVID-19. He had contracted COVID-19 from a staff member of a nursing home. Mr. Hickson was denied treatment based on the belief that treatment would not improve his quality of life. 

Mr. Hickson’s wife, Melissa, recorded and posted a video of the doctor explaining why care was denied. An unidentified doctor is heard saying, “So as of right now his quality of life, he doesn’t have much of one.”

Melissa asked, “What do you mean? Because he’s paralyzed with a brain injury he doesn’t have a quality of life?” The doctor responded, “Correct.”

The Hickson family’s tragic loss places a spotlight on the false conclusion that life with a disability isn’t one of quality. The Office for Civil Rights released a memo in March 2020 stating, “Persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgements about a person’s relative “worth” based on the presence or absence of disabilities or age.” Despite this clarification of civil rights in healthcare settings, these inequities persist; in this case and others, they cost the lives of Americans with disabilities.

The Center for Dignity in Healthcare for People with Disabilities was founded to correct the misconception that there is not value or dignity in life with a disability. Mr. Hickson was a cherished husband, father, and person. We denounce the denial of care, during this pandemic and always, explicitly on the basis of disability and the biased belief that a life with a disability is not worth living. We call for more just and culturally competent healthcare for all Americans, including those with disabilities.  

For more information on how to join the Center for Dignity in Healthcare for People with Disabilities in the fight against medical discrimination and ableism, email [email protected]. Learn more about your rights during COVID-19 here.