BERLIN (Reuters) -The German government will present draft legislation to protect people with disabilities and pre-existing conditions if over-stretched hospitals are forced to decide who gets care, in line with a constitutional court decision on Tuesday, Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said.
The court ruled that the constitution, which stipulates that people with disabilities cannot be discriminated against, was violated by the lack of government provisions to ensure fair treatment of disabled people if hospitals have to prioritise.
The ruling said lawmakers must act "without delay" to set out legally binding criteria to protect vulnerable people, but it did not say how that should be done.
Nine people with disabilities and pre-existing conditions had filed complaints at the court in Karlsruhe, as the coronavirus pandemic pushes hospitals to their limits.
The complainants, who point out that they are at higher risk of becoming severely ill or dying from COVID-19, fear that due to their statistically lower level of survival they would always have lowest priority for an intensive care bed.
Guidelines from German medical organisations, including the DIVI association for emergency medicine, have identified probability of survival, taking into account the patient's frailty and existing diseases, as the main criterion for triage.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach welcomed the ruling.
"People with disabilities need protection by the state more than anyone else. Especially in the case of triage," he wrote on Twitter. "But now it's about preventing a triage situation through effective protective measures and vaccinations."
The director of the German foundation for patient protection, Eugen Brysch, told the Rheinische Post newspaper the ruling was long overdue.
Dagmar Schmidt, the deputy parliamentary group leader of Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democrats, said there had been discussions on the issue last year, and it should be possible to quickly take action on the court's "clear mandate".
Germany is bracing for a fifth wave of coronavirus infections as the omicron variant takes a foothold.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious disease reported 3,218 new omicron cases on Tuesday, 45% more than the previous day, bringing the total figure to 10,443 cases.
Overall, Germany reported 21,080 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, for a total of 7,026,369.
According to the RKI, as of Tuesday, 19% of adult intensive care beds were occupied by patients with COVID-19.
(Reporting by Ursula Knapp, Writing by Miranda Murray, Editing by Zuzanna Szymanska, Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson)