Covid-19: Learning from Persons with Disabilities

The new note of the Pontifical Academy for Life, drawn up in collaboration with the Vatican COVID-19 Commission

The new note of the Pontifical Academy for Life is entitled Friendship with persons with disabilities: the beginning of a new world. Learning from Experiences of Persons with Disabilities and Their Caregivers during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The document follows the notes of March 30, 2020 (Global Pandemic and Universal Brotherhood), of July 22, 2020 (Humana Communitas in the Age of Pandemic), of February 9, 2021 (Old Age: Our Future), and it was drawn up in collaboration with the Vatican COVID-19 Commission. This document points out that «persons with disabilities and their caregivers need and deserve special attention and supports because the pandemic has disproportionately impacted their lives in negative ways». It also highlights the need to involve and support people with disabilities as much as possible «to make advance care plans and healthcare decisions at all times, including during pandemics».

The document underlines three fundamental ethical concerns: 1. «We should promote accommodations for the specific needs of persons with disabilities to benefit from public health policies and interventions. We should involve such persons as much as possible in planning and making decisions regarding their health care during a pandemic»; 2. «In public health, as in all health care, we must go beyond regarding disability solely in biological terms. We should support persons with disabilities and their families in coordinated and integrated ways across medical and other specialties, and various sectors of government and society»; 3. «we ought to develop public health frameworks based on solidarity and a preferential option for the poor and the vulnerable locally and globally».

It is necessary to listen to disabled people and in this sense the note proposes that a real «teaching authority of disability» be promoted and valued.  «The lessons that persons with disabilities can teach us, especially during this pandemic, are provocative. They challenge us to adopt a new perspective on the meaning of life. They invite us to accept inter-dependence, mutual accountability, and care for one another as a lifestyle and as a way to promote the common good». The constant teaching of the Church looks to the suffering Christ, who is a teacher of humanity: «The Suffering and Crucified One continues to live in solidarity with them (persons with disabilities) during this pandemic and beyond. They are in the heart of God and central to the ministry of the entire people of God. The Church, therefore, has a mission to accompany, care and advocate for and with persons with disabilities».

The document lists seven «practical recommendations». For instance, «Catholic healthcare organizations» are asked «to show leadership in responding to the needs of persons with disabilities and their families during and after this pandemic». Moreover, «as the world distributes COVID-19 vaccines, we recommend prioritizing (…) also those, such as persons with disabilities, on whom generic public health measures impose disproportionate burdens (e.g., the loss of essential support services) ».

In the conclusion, the note reminds us that the Word of God exhorts us to build a world «without borders, without prejudice against people with disabilities, where none is left alone to deal with the challenges of personal survival». Christians «are called to contribute to building such a world. Unfortunately, in Christian thought, disability has at times been identified as a consequence of original sin». The Gospel teaches that «at the end of our lives and of human history, we will be judged on our love of our neighbour, especially the poor, the most vulnerable, and those regarded the least in the human family. Among these, in our day, are persons with disabilities. Let us resolve and take steps during and after this pandemic to ensure that, after the mud of the devastation of this pandemic has been strained away, we will build a better world—a world in which persons with disabilities are always valued, befriended, and loved».

The following Academicians contributed to the drafting of this document: William F. Sullivan, John Heng, MaryKare Gaurke, Cory Labrecque, Neil Scolding, Paulina Taboada.

All the texts of the notes are available in different languages:


15 June 2021