Ministry of Health
777 Bay St.
Toronto, ON M7A 2J3
January 22, 2021
Dear Minister Elliott,
We are writing to you regarding the critical care triage protocol for Ontario hospitals in case of a major COVID-19 surge. With the latest modelling showing that ICUs may be full by early February, the prospect that doctors will have to make life and death decisions about who receives critical care and who doesn’t is not just hypothetical, it could become a reality.
On January 18, we obtained and made public a document dated January 13 written by the COVID-19 Critical Care Command Centre and issued to hospitals. It provides guidance on how hospitals should triage ICU patients in the awful event that emergency rooms are overwhelmed by COVID cases.
Disability rights organizations, including the AODA Alliance, have raised important concerns with the document. Firstly, that it was drafted in secret without the government consulting directly with disability organizations. Second, that it opens the door to discrimination on the basis of disability in the allocation of life-saving care. Finally, it does not offer patients a right of appeal outside the healthcare system, either to an independent tribunal or a court.
Instead of addressing these substantive concerns, we were puzzled by a Ministry of Health spokesperson distancing your government from the document altogether. The Ministry maintains that it is not a triage protocol, despite the fact that it lays out how hospitals should triage critical care patients. Your spokesperson also claimed that the document was “not approved or endorsed by the Ministry of Health”, even though it was authored by the Critical Care Command Centre your government created.
To this end, we would like you to answer the following questions: Your government says it has not approved the January 13 triage protocol, but it is in doctors’ hands right now. Will you rein in any bodies claiming to instruct hospitals on triage, and revoke the January 13 protocol?
The National Post has reported that the government’s Bioethics Table recommended temporarily suspending the law which requires patient or family consent before life-sustaining treatment is withdrawn from a critical care patient. Is your government considering this and if so, will you immediately publicize any regulations or legislation under consideration for public discussion about this life and death matter?
The Premier promised “complete transparency” at the start of this pandemic but Minster, your government’s approach to clinical triage has been anything but transparent. The public has a right to know what hospitals are being told to do in the event of a major COVID surge, who is telling them to do so, and to be consulted so that any protocol respects the human rights of all Ontarians, particularly those with disabilities.
We look forward to your response.
Leader of the Official Opposition
MPP, Ottawa Centre