21 August 2009

Catholic Principles for Health Care Reform

21 AUGUST 2009. With the United States engaged in a debate over health care reform, it may add to the dialogue to prayerfully consider the Catholic principles that are to be applied to any proposal.

In a statement coming days before his ordination as the Archbishop of New Orleans, Archbishop Gregory Aymond, issued the following statement that sets out Catholic principles on health care reform in concise and meaningful manner.
The Catholic bishops in the United States recognize a pressing need for health care reform. Too many American citizens lack basic health care coverage and the cost of health care is becoming prohibitive for many more.

The Lord Jesus, who came to save us from our sins, manifested a great concern for the sick in his public ministry. He also urged us to reach out to the poor and sick in our midst. The Church rightly considers that government has a responsibility to ensure access to basic health care for all.

The bishops do not propose a specific plan or policy. But we set out the following principles to shape public policy:

* We need to develop a plan which ensures access to basic health care for all.
* We need to make sure that the poor and the vulnerable, including legal immigrants, are part of this plan.
* We need to control health care costs so that it is affordable to all.
* We need to make sure that abortion, euthanasia or other immoral activities are not mandated or financed with tax payer dollars. This includes conscience protection for all providers, whether institutions or individual persons, and for all recipients.

The bishops, without proposing either a public or private sector option, urge that any plan which is developed embrace these principles. Catholics are urged to contact their United States Senators and Representative to ask them to use these principles to evaluate all proposals that are developed.

Strident or shrill rhetoric does not help us to engage in civil and respectful deliberation about a serious social issue with significant moral implications. God grant us the wisdom to discern what is right and the courage to do it.
As faithful Catholics let us join our payer with Archbishop Aymond's for wisdom and courage.

For Catholics in the U.S., the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has put up a web portal which details the Church's position on the health care reform debate. The web portal is available here.

My thoughts on this, when time is take to pray and consider the issue, always return to the opening paragraphs the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, written by the great John Paul II:
Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God. The loftiness of this supernatural vocation reveals the greatness and the inestimable value of human life even in its temporal phase. Life in time, in fact, is the fundamental condition, the initial stage and an integral part of the entire unified process of human existence. It is a process which, unexpectedly and undeservedly, is enlightened by the promise and renewed by the gift of divine life, which will reach its full realization in eternity (cf. 1 Jn 3:1-2). At the same time, it is precisely this supernatural calling which highlights the relative character of each individual's earthly life. After all, life on earth is not an "ultimate" but a "penultimate" reality; even so, it remains a sacred reality entrusted to us, to be preserved with a sense of responsibility and brought to perfection in love and in the gift of ourselves to God and to our brothers and sisters.

The Church knows that this Gospel of life, which she has received from her Lord, has a profound and persuasive echo in the heart of every person--believer and non-believer alike--because it marvellously fulfils all the heart's expectations while infinitely surpassing them. Even in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can, by the light of reason and the hidden action of grace, come to recognize in the natural law written in the heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15) the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree. Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the political community itself are founded.
(footnote omitted). So, as every human has a dignity imbued in us by our Loving Creator, which is made manifest in the promise of eternity that is available to all, and each of us has a right to have the sacred value of our earthly lives protected and respected.

Basic and affordable health care, that is fully respectful of the the dignity of human life from conception to natural death, is a critical piece of how we as a society show respect for life.

As the United States Catholic Conference said in its pastoral letter Economic Justice for All :
Personal decisions, policies of private and public bodies, and power relationships must be all evaluated by their effects on those who lack the minimum necessities of nutrition, housing, education, and health care. In particular, this principle recognizes that meeting fundamental human needs must come before the fulfillment of desires for luxury consumer goods, for profits not conducive to the common good, and for unnecessary military hardware.
The next time you hear a news story or engage in a conversation about the health care debate, stop and think. Pray briefly, joining your prayer with that of Archbishop Aymond, for the courage and wisdom to faithfully engage in the debate. Then ask these questions:
  1. Do the positions, and the words of the debate, show respect for the dignity of all human life?
  2. How would the debate change if the focus was put on measuring the success of health care reform by how it assisted those least among us?
  3. Is the position that is being promoted one that places the common good ahead of individual's selfish desires?

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