A Passionist view on Healthcare
During this summer Congress and the administration is again considering the fundamental question of universal healthcare for our nation. Within the Catholic American community there are many blogs and editorials with such divergent positions on this subject that at the level of being a single religious community it is almost impossible to say what our position is. As a Catholic religious community we hope to offer our wisdom on this debate.
Unlike other religious traditions and institutions our Catholic Church is one of the most hierarchical religious systems in our world. While our church is open to the spiritual and cultural diversity of our faith, our own tradition and teachings are ultimately formulated through the highest governing body known as the Magisterium. It is the opinion of the Passionist office of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation that the Catholic Church does have a unified position on the principle of this issue. Our own Passionist spirituality values this position. While the Catholic Church does have a position on the principle of this issue it does not offer a detail policy for how to carry out this principle, but the position does lend itself to contemplate certain policy direction.
The Catholic Position:
When we compare the various opinions of the Catholic American community on this subject it is noticeable that there is one fundamental question that tends to split the community into two camps that are either in favor or against universal healthcare. Is healthcare a basic human right or not? If you accept that people have the right to good healthcare then you will generally support some model of universal healthcare. On the other hand if you disagree with this position then healthcare is not a social responsibility but an individual’s privilege.
The Catholic Church does have a position with regards to this question. Healthcare is a basic human right. Catholic social teaching affirms this in the encyclical by Pope John XXIII known as Pacem in Terris:
#11: Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood.
In 1993 The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops affirmed this basic right and offered a detailed position titled “Comprehensive Health Care Reform” in which they offer the following definitive position:
“Every person has a right to adequate health care. This right flows from the sanctity of human life and the dignity that belongs to all human persons, who are made in the image of God.” Healthcare is more than a commodity; it is a basic human right, and essential safeguard of human life and dignity.
The Catholic Church then does affirm healthcare as a basic human right. While our own Passionist spirituality does not develop itself in terms of defining rights or duties it does promote an ethic of compassion based on a spirituality on the Passion of Christ that identifies with the ongoing suffering of the human community as witness of the New Creation that was revealed to us in the Resurrection. As a lay and vowed community we are called to be in solidarity with those who suffer. While all members of the human community do suffer and we minister to all without any reservation we do acknowledge a fundamental option towards those who suffer injustice at the hand of society. We acknowledge a particular solidarity with the poor who St. Paul of the Cross reminded us had “the name of Jesus written on their foreheads.” This solidarity calls us to offer a compassionate position on issues of social concern. This social ethic was stated very well by our own Pope Benedict XVI in his recent Encyclical Spe Salvi:
#38. The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society. A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through “com-passion” is a cruel and inhuman society.
Universal healthcare is an issue because among other things we recognize that there are Americans who are left outside of the private healthcare system. We also recognize that some Americans who have poor insurance still suffer from a healthcare system that has poor or limited quality of access to their own healthcare needs. These are people who are struggling in our midst with a system that is not working at all for them. With the current economic crisis we know that many of our families, neighbors and maybe even ourselves may be facing this struggle as well. Our Passionist spirituality and our Catholic Church call us to promote some form of universal healthcare.
An American universal healthcare system:
Having made this position what should we advocate for in the midst of this healthcare debate? We do not offer a legislative position on this. We recognize that the call for a universal healthcare system in our nation must take into consideration the various economical and social elements that are currently part of the fabric of our own nation. We are a highly capitalistic society with powerful insurance and pharmaceutical industries. We also place a high secular value on the individual’s liberty and are generally nervous about top down government intervention. As challenging as these values and situation might be for promoting the Catholic position we can still be creative in seeing how we can promote a healthcare system that serves the common good while adapting to the situation and values of the American society.
The socialized medicine option of Great Britain may not be the model for America. However we can examine the healthcare system of others that resemble our own social values and economic forces. Switzerland is one such nation that may offer us such a model. It is the idea of a socially regulated insurance where all citizens are required to have coverage. On the one hand Government does set the price for medicine and the insurance company is not allowed to make a profit on basic services. But they are given the freedom to negotiate prices for services with providers and they are allowed to profitable supplemental insurance.
Henry Aaron is a senior fellow in the Economic Studies program at the Brookings Institute. He has adopted a very realistic goal for a healthcare model that he feels can be adopted by the various interests in America and can offer us an excellent first step in promoting a good American style universal healthcare system. In his proposal he advocates for a national healthcare insurance exchange. It would be a place where citizens are given the option of private and public insurance companies. Furthermore a good initial healthcare bill will improve on the information technology of the healthcare system and conduct a study on the comparative effectiveness of various health care models. While this may seem like a slow beginning it does offer a pragmatic base from which a well fitting universal healthcare system can grow in our nation.
To keep the dialogue going on the subject, wathc Paul Krugman’s response on the Universal Healthcare Debate: