Open letter to EU Commissioner for Health - Kyriakides: Persons with disabilities and the right to health in the European Union

10 December 2020

Brussels, December 10th, 2020

Dear Commissioner,

The European Disability Forum is an umbrella organisation of persons with disabilities that advocates for the rights of over 100 million persons with disabilities in Europe. We are a unique platform which brings together representative organisations of persons with disabilities. We are run by persons with disabilities and their families. We are a strong, united voice of persons with disabilities. Our members have been working tirelessly to protect the rights of persons with disabilities during the COVID- 19 crisis.

Today, on Human Rights Day, we wish to recall that all persons with disabilities should have the right to health in the EU, but as the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, it is still not the case. We would like to call on you at this time to ensure that persons with disabilities are fully included in your work as Commissioner for Health and Food safety, The European Union and its members states committed to this when they ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The CRPD obliges countries to provide persons with disabilities with the same range, quality and standard of free or affordable health care, as persons without disabilities, including through ensuring the accessibility of these services. It also calls on States parties to ensure that disaster response is inclusive and accessible. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we have been reminded of the significant barriers faced by over 100 million persons with disabilities in the European Union:

  • Discrimination in access to life-saving treatment to COVID-19
  • Inaccessibility of public health information and healthcare provision
  • Lack of access to protective personal equipment to persons with disabilities and persons that support them
  • Exclusion of persons with disabilities from COVID-19 testing, hospitalisation and vaccination strategies
  • Exclusion of persons with disabilities from data gathered on the pandemic

Other issues related to the right to health have increased during the pandemic, such as the limited access to sexual and reproductive health services by women with disabilities, and the involuntary treatment and placement in psychiatry particularly affecting persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities, and people on the autism spectrum.

Fundamental to the right to health of persons with disabilities is free and informed consent to treatment. Any form of forced or coercive treatment, indeed any treatment without free and informed consent of the person receiving the treatment is a human rights violation, as enshrined in the CRPD and recognised by numerous UN Special Mandates-Holders. EDF has been active in campaigning against the draft additional protocol to the Oviedo Convention of the Council of Europe that would allow more broadly and endorse such placement and treatment. In the light of COVID-19 it is imperative that persons with disabilities have their right to free and informed consent to treatment protected. Forced seclusion, forced restraint and forced medication shall not be used or escalated during this crisis.

When the European Union was reviewed by the CRPD Committee in 2015, there were specific recommendations related to the right to health in the EU, which also remain problematic. The EU was called on to “explicitly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of disability in the field of health care and take measures to ensure access to quality health care for all persons with all types of disabilities”. The Committee also recommended that the European Union “evaluate the impact of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union Directive 2011/24/EU on patients’ rights in cross-border health care with regard to gaps in access for persons with disabilities, including accessible information, reasonable accommodation and training of professionals’”.

The upcoming European Disability Strategy is an opportunity to tackle issues related to the right to health for persons with disabilities which we have raised in this letter. As the EU aims to build on the lessons of COVID-19 in creating a European Health Union, we would like to request a meeting with you to discuss how to ensure the EU can play its role in ensuring the EU builds an inclusive health union. The European Disability Forum is at our disposal for cooperation and information. Do not hesitate to contact us on any issues we have raised.

Yours sincerely,

Yannis Vardakastanis

President, European Disability Forum

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  • European Disability Forum
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