MUMBAI, India – A Catholic priest has lambasted a court in India for saying younger people should be prioritized in handing out COVID-19 vaccines, since the older population – most vulnerable to the disease – has “lived its life.”

“The administration of the drug to patients who have better chances of survival may have to be prioritized. Similarly, patients who are younger and who hold promise for our nation in the future, may have to be prioritized in comparison with the older generation which has lived its life and on whom others will not be as dependent,” said the Delhi High Court, as it directed the local government to prioritize the youth.

“While observing so, we are not for a moment discounting the emotional, psychological support that the older generation provides to the families particularly Indian families who are so closely bonded. However, in times like these, difficult choices have to be made and should be made by the State,” the court said on Tuesday.

Father Savio de Sales of the Archdiocese of Bombay said he was “shocked” by the statement.

“It’s our duty to take care of our older generation … this utterance by the High Court is disgusting,” he told Crux.

“All human life is a gift over which we have stewardship but not absolute dominion. Life is a continuum from moment of conception till natural death.”

Other countries, including the United States and United Kingdom, have prioritized the most vulnerable to COVID-19, including the elderly. The UK has been distributing the vaccine in age bands, with over-80s being prioritized.

According to an article published last year in Science, prioritizing the elderly in vaccine distribution would save the greatest number of lives during the pandemic.

However, de Sales said there are other reasons to not skip the elderly when giving out vaccines.

“It’s important to remember to be not only considerate but also polite to people whose bodies and minds are aging, simply because of the hands of time. Ageism exists, but being kind and showing compassion is at least one step in the right direction in a world that is often devoid of manners and respect for our elderly,” the priest said.

“We need to remember; we’re going to be in their shoes one day. We must defend the value, dignity and sacredness of each life, which can never be lost by incapacitating illness or old age especially in pandemic,” he continued.

He then took aim at the High Court.

“Instead of making learned observations on the COVID-19 Vaccine policy, availability and distribution strategies of the vaccines, the learned judge sought to make observations on the weakest of society, on the very ones, whom society needs to cherish and safeguarded,” de Sales said.

On Monday, India registered over 150,000 new cases and more than 3,000 deaths. Overall, the country has the second highest total number of infections, after the United States, with more than 28 million confirmed cases and nearly 330,000 deaths. Both figures are believed to be vast undercounts.

After registering a daily peak of over 400,000 new cases in May, experts say infections seem to be easing, especially in the capital, New Delhi, and Mumbai. But there is concern the virus may still be rampant in the poorer countryside, where access to health care is more limited.

This article incorporated material from the Associated Press.