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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

NCIL Statement on Michael Hickson

On the eve of the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) mourns the deaths of those who have died as a result of the denial of medical services, braces itself for more casualties to come, and condemns the inhumane practice of rationing healthcare that, although it has always been a concern for the disability community, has become an all-too-grim reality during this era of COVID-19.

The recent demise in Austin, TX, of Michael Hickson, a Black father of five who lived as the result of a cardiac incident with both spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, has spearheaded a necessary conversation regarding the value placed upon life in the US. Hickson, who was taken to the hospital as a result of contracting COVID-19 in the nursing facility where he resided, was denied medical care, food, and water, ultimately starving to death, alone, on June 11th, 2020. The decision to deny Mr. Hickson treatment was made by his medical team and his court-appointed guardian and against the wishes of his family, who weren’t notified of Mr. Hickson’s death until a day after he passed away.

Michael Hickson’s life mattered – to his wife, to his children, and to his community. It should have mattered to the medical professionals charged to care for him. It didn’t – audio recordings of Mr. Hickson’s medical team clearly reflect that, because of his disabilities, they felt Mr. Hickson would be a waste of treatment. As states throughout the US move forward with initiatives intended to prioritize who during the pandemic will get care and rationalize about who will be denied, people with disabilities – who are disproportionately being impacted by COVID-19 at alarming rates – are left to grapple with the grim reality that healthcare settings, which are intended to provide care, are both a system of inequity and, as is the case with Mr. Hickson, an instrument of death.

The disability community deserves better, Michael Hickson and his family deserved better, and because of this, NCIL intends to file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) that will entail a request that they conduct a thorough investigation into the circumstances – and the myriad ADA violations that occurred – leading up to Mr. Hickson’s death. NCIL also seeks out legislative and organizational partners in the interest of joining forces on behalf of the disability community to ensure that, not only is the unfortunate trend towards medical rationing curtailed during the pandemic, it is seen for what it is by the general public: an unethical and barbaric practice that has no place in the US, moving forward.

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