NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen has sentenced persons with disabilities who require ventilators to “life imprisonment” in a nursing home, according to a statement issued by a civil rights organization for persons with disabilities.

The state has recently made cuts to its health care program, called TennCare. There are approximately 100 persons with disabilities who are dependent on ventilators funded through the TennCare program, but who live independently in their own homes or with family members.

Bredesen was responding to questions put to him at a recent media event by Randy Alexander of the Memphis Center for Independent Living.

Bredesen said the TennCare cuts will not affect these services, but they would be provided in a nursing home setting. Alexander asked the governor if he plans to institutionalize people because they have a disability. “Yes,” he responded. “I care about these people. I’m not going to cut their services [but] I’m going to provide their services in a nursing home.”

Alexander challenged the governor’s statement, “Are you going to sentence them to prison for the crime of having a disability?” he asked. “A nursing home is an institution, an institution is imprisonment and you are saying today, right now, you are willing to sentence them to prison for the crime of having a disability.”

Bredesen responded, “The state cannot afford to pay for the services of these 100 people” as he walked away, according to the statement issued by Alexander.

Tennessee has a troubled history of addressing civil rights concerns of individuals with disabilities in the state. Recently, Tennessee’s attorney general brought action before the United States Supreme Court to declare the Americans with Disabilities Act unconstitutional, following a lawsuit filed against the state by a state employee with a disability. The Supreme Court rejected Tennessee’s claim and found the ADA to be constitutional.

Further actions are planned by the Memphis Center for Independent Living in cooperation with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today (ADAPT).