The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have condemned the issuing of blanket Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (DNACPR) orders to people with learning disabilities as “wholly unacceptable and immoral”.
The criticism comes following reports that those with learning disabilities were being told they would not be resuscitated if they were taken seriously ill with Covid-19.
Bishop Richard Moth, Chair of the Bishops’ Conference Department for Social Justice, expressed distress at the reports and reminded society that “all human life is endowed with equal God-given dignity from the moment of conception until natural death”.
He warned that the issuing of blanket DNACPR orders on those with learning disabilities is a form of discrimination, which has no place in the health service, or wider society.
In a statement, Bishop Moth said the bishops were distressed to learn of reports from the charity Mencap, which reiterated the statement of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in December 2020, that people with learning disabilities have been given DNACPR orders during the second wave of the pandemic.
“In a time when we are being given so much hope by the efficient roll-out of the vaccination programme, it is shocking to hear that people with learning disabilities are being made the victims of such discrimination,” he said. “Their carers have shown deep love and compassion during the pandemic to ensure that they are as safe as possible.
“All human life is endowed with equal God-given dignity from the moment of conception until natural death. Our worth as humans should never be determined by the status of our mental health or capacity.”
Bishop Moth warned that it is “wholly unacceptable and immoral” to suggest that the challenges which some people with learning disabilities face with communicating symptoms should make them candidates for a DNACPR order.
“The issuing of such orders in a blanket fashion ignores the unique gift of each person, instead treating people with learning disabilities as though they were all the same. There should be no discrimination of this kind in our health service,” he said.
The bishop cited the words of Pope Francis, who recently said: “If we deprive the weakest among us of the right to life, how can we effectively guarantee respect for every other right?”
He added: “We present Pope Francis’s question to those making the decisions to issue blanket DNACPR orders for people with learning disabilities.”
The bishops also renewed their call, from April 2020, for access to treatment and decisions about the care of the sick to always focused on the specific needs of the individual, and for any conversations about these decisions to involve close and clear communication with the sick and their loved ones.
“The bishops continue to pray for an end to the pandemic, for fair and person-centred access to treatment, and for those working tirelessly on the front line to fight the Covid-19 pandemic,” Bishop Moth added.
Picture: A DNACPR order. (CBCEW).