"Those people are Christ to us in a special way and we will be judged according to how we treat them. We don't think about, say, how long they might stay on a ventilator vs. how long someone we might encounter next week might stay on a ventilator. We also don't think about how long they might have to live if the treatment is successful vs. how long other someone we might encounter next week might live if their treatment is successful."
He added that it makes sense among limited resources "to treat those first who are most likely to benefit from the treatment. And there may be a disproportionate number of younger people in the former category. But that is not the same as deciding that we ought to prefer the young to the old because they have longer to live."
While the US bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services do not directly address resource allocation during crises, they do note that "Catholic health care should distinguish itself by service to and advocacy for those people whose social condition puts them at the margins of our society and makes them particularly vulnerable to discrimination: the poor; the uninsured and the underinsured; children and the unborn; single parents; the elderly; those with incurable diseases and chemical dependencies; racial minorities; immigrants and refugees."
The directives add that "in particular, the person with mental or physical disabilities, regardless of the cause or severity, must be treated as a unique person of incomparable worth, with the same right to life and to adequate health care as all other persons."
In Washington, advocates of persons with disabilities have filed a complaint saying that crisis care guidelines issued by the state health department are improperly discriminatory.
"There's been a long history of people with intellectual, development mental disabilities having our medical care denied," Ivanova Smith, one of the complainants, told NPR. "Because we're not seen as valuable. We're not seen as productive or needed. When that's not true. We have people that love us and that care for us. Many people with disabilities work and they do amazing things in their communities but they need that life saving care."
Attorneys representing the Thomas More Society and the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund published a memo March 23 urging that "policies rationing care on the basis of disability or age … would violate federal law regarding invidious discrimination."
"Anticipated longevity or quality of life are inappropriate issues for consideration. Decisions must be made solely on clinical factors as to which patients have the greatest need and the best prospect of a good medical outcome. Therefore, disability and age should not be used as categorical exclusions in making these critical decisions," the memo concludes.
Peter Breen, vice president of the Thomas More Society, commented that "The horrific idea of withholding care from someone because they are elderly or disabled, is untenable and represents a giant step in the devaluation of each and every human life in America."
Other possible criteria for healthcare distribution during crises include first-come-first-served, or a lottery system.