Twelfth century Hippocratic Oath in form of a cross What do Christians think of health care reform?  Well, different things apparently, depending upon one’s brand of Christianity.

Does Blogger Kathy Escobar reflect the teachings of Jesus?  In a recent post, Escobar states:

Jesus calls us to care for the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the rejected, the oppressed, the unprotected. what this means is we are supposed to give some of ours to help.  we are supposed to make sacrifices that we don’t necessarily want to make but are willing to because Jesus reminds us of that  life-here-on-earth-is-not-about-gathering-wealth-and-taking-care-of-only-our-own-needs.  it’s about sacrificial love.  it’s about taking care of others needs.  it’s about seeing gaps and filling them.  it’s about humbling ourselves for the sake of others.  it’s about offering our coats, our food, our hands and our feet in a tangible way even when it costs us time & money & energy.

Seems pretty clear, and Austin Texas Presbyterian pastor Jim Rigby would agree, yet he throws up his arms in exasperation as he laments:

I can’t believe I am standing today in a Christian church defending the proposition that we should lessen the suffering of those who cannot afford health care in an economic system that often treats the poor as prey for the rich. I cannot believe there are Christians around this nation who are shouting that message down and waving guns in the air because they don’t want to hear it. But I learned along time ago that churches are strange places; charity is fine, but speaking of justice is heresy in many churches. The late Brazilian bishop Dom Hélder Câmara said it well: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist." Too often today in the United States, if you talk about helping the poor, they call you Christian, but if you actually try to do something to help the poor, they call you a socialist.

Roman Catholics have a long and admirable record of defending the poor.  The latest policy statement from the United States Council of Bishops advocates for these points:

    • a truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity
    • access for all with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants
    • pursuing the common good and preserving pluralism including freedom of conscience and variety of options
    • restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers

    Yet, the rigidity of many Bishops, priests, and lay persons in their opposition to abortion rights seems to be stronger than their advocacy for universal health care.  Unless health care reform precludes coverage for abortions, many Catholics stand against a truly universal health policy with access for all.  Ok, we get that many Catholics vehemently disagree with Roe v Wade, but it is the law of the land.  Is the health care reform debate the proper platform to fight that battle?  Should universal health care be sacrificed just to make a point? 

On the other hand, many progressive Catholics are able to see the forest and not just the trees.  The Consortium of Jesuit Bioethics Programs has issued a policy statement entitled “The Moral Case for Insuring the Uninsured”:

As health care ethicists, we believe providing universal access to health care is the right thing to do, and now is the right time to do it. Much like our commitment to providing universal access to K-12 education, the reasons for doing so are both pragmatic and moral. And these reasons are so compelling that they require us to do what it takes to overcome obstacles.

Each year, according to a report of the prestigious Institute of Medicine, approximately 18,000 Americans die prematurely because they lack health insurance. Persons who lack insurance typically do not seek medical care until their illnesses have progressed to the point when they can no longer be ignored. Then the illness is far more difficult (and expensive) to treat.

We believe that thinking about our values—values of justice, solidarity, and compassion—changes our perspective on health care reform. Currently, support among the public is wavering because of concerns about cost, funding mechanisms, and what is in it for the person who currently has private health insurance. From the point of view of our common values, the final concern is the most relevant. A just and
compassionate society is obligated to try to meet the basic needs of all members of the community—not every imaginable desire, but our most basic needs such as food, a foundational education, and basic health care.

Political leadership, if it is to be true moral leadership, must have the courage and will to push forward legislation that may not please everyone, but will give all persons access to an acceptable level of health care services. We become better people when we respond to the arbitrary and capricious threats to life and the pursuit of happiness that afflict our neighbor. And, of course, when we guarantee justice for our neighbor, we do so for ourselves and our families as well should disaster befall us.

My twenty five year old son has a full time job, but it does not provide health benefits.  Last spring, he caught pneumonia and he resisted medical care because he couldn’t afford it; finally, he made a single visit to a local emergency room and antibiotics were prescribed.  He recovered nicely, but he now faces a bill that is nearly ten percent of his net annual income for his single emergency room visit. 

Hmm.  For many, the issue is bankruptcy or ill health–which to choose?

The system is broke, folks, and it’s time to fix it.  It’s the pragmatic, responsible thing to do.  For some of us, it’s the Christian thing to do also.