Michael Hickson and #BlackDisabledLivesMatter


July 6, 2020 | by Amber Smock

Michael Hickson and #BlackDisabledLivesMatter

Content warning: racism, ableism, medical murder

Discussions about quality of life as it relates to people with disabilities are deeply emotional, much debated and controversial. Longstanding social stereotypes promote the misconception that disabled people have a lower quality of life than non-disabled people, and quality of life standards often skew toward wealthy, white cisgender people.

Simply having a disability does not equate to having a poorer quality of life. That’s why Access Living, and a number of disability advocates nationwide, have been pushing hard for guidance and protocols that ensure non-discrimination in healthcare, especially emergency triage during the pandemic. For far too long, there have been cases of bias, guardianship abuse, misuse of Do Not Resuscitate forms, and medical malpractice that tragically result in the killing of disabled people. This area of work is difficult because it has to do with personal choices within medical and insurance systems that do not always value disabled lives the way they should.

As a result of Access Living’s advocacy, and that of our partners, we have public health guidance banning discrimination in Covid-19 emergency triage situations in Illinois, and a person with a disability can have a support person with them in the hospital even when visitors are restricted. Still, the struggle continues-not only in the United States, but in other countries as well.

On Thursday, June 11, a disabled Black man in Texas named Michael Hickson who had Covid-19 died after hospital staff withheld treatment from him for six days. He had an anoxic brain injury and quadriplegia after experiencing sudden cardiac arrest in 2017. He left behind a wife and five children. The South Austin Medical Center in Texas, where Hickson was being treated, said that a court-appointed guardian (not his wife) gave them permission to end his life. A summary of the situation can be read here. The decision to withhold treatment was apparently based on Hickson’s projected quality of life. His wife actually recorded the discussion with his doctor (available through this link as a captioned video).

Disability advocates have reacted in outrage, anger, and disgust because what happened to Michael Hickson is not new. When, as in Michael Hickson’s case, quality of life and ableist arguments are coupled with racism, inability to pay for healthcare, and the debate over guardianship, the situation is too often deadly. In response, ADAPT of Texas staged a protest outside the South Austin Medical Center (see this link). The national outrage over what happened continues to build.

To keep an eye on the developing advocacy, we recommend following the hashtag #BlackDisabledLivesMatter. You can tweet messages about Michael Hickson at the medical center at @StDavidsHC, and they are also on Facebook . We encourage people to share the story of Michael Hickson on social media, and to continue advocating for culturally competent resources for home and community based services to get more people with disabilities out of congregate settings. What happened to Michael Hickson is unacceptable, and in the end, amounted to murder. As we working towards racial justice, in this era of pandemic and unacceptable health disparities, we have to keep pushing to change both the system and social expectations.

Thank you, as always for your advocacy.