On Tuesday, the OCR told CNA that it did not comment on open or potential investigations.
However, a spokesperson for the office told CNA that OCR director Roger Severino is committed to ensuring no one is left behind during times of emergency.
"Persons with disabilities, with limited English skills, or needing religious accommodations should not be put at the end of the line for health services during emergencies. Our civil rights laws protect the equal dignity of every human life from ruthless utilitarianism," Severino said in a quote sent to CNA.
If healthcare is rationed based on age or disability, ventilators could be denied to COVID-19 patients above a certain age or those with a condition such as muscular dystrophy, Camosy said.
"We're trying to raise the alarm about this," George told CNA, saying the scholars will ask Attorney General William Barr to clarify to states that health care rationing must not violate federal civil rights laws.
In response to the academics' request, a legal memorandum was prepared by attorneys for the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund and the Thomas More Society, led by the groups' special counsel Charles LiMandri, who is also a partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP.
"Federal law requires that decisions regarding the critical care of patients during the current crisis not discriminate on the basis of disability or age," the memorandum states.
Among the federal civil rights protections in healthcare cited in the document are the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, which forbids age discrimination in federally-funded health programs, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits disability discrimination by private entities and state and local governments.
"The Affordable Care Act extends the above protections against discrimination on the basis of disability or age to individuals participating in any health program or activity administered by HHS or that receives funding from HHS," the memorandum states.
Critical health care decisions are fast looming as the pandemic grows, particularly in hotspots such as New York City and Seattle.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo warned last week that by early May, 110,000 hospital beds would be needed to deal with the virus with a current total capacity of only 53,000 beds.
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Unfortunately, health officials and doctors will probably have to ration care, Camosy said, with not enough hospital beds, ICU beds, ventilators and other equipment available to treat all the patients with the virus..
"There's really no question at this point that we're going to have to have some kind of plan, even if it's just first-come-first-serve," he said.
However, he emphasized, "we ought not to violate people's fundamental rights by doing so."
Matt Hadro was the political editor at Catholic News Agency through October 2021. He previously worked as CNA senior D.C. correspondent and as a press secretary for U.S. Congressman Chris Smith.