Christ-Centered Health Care Reform

Recently, there have been a lot ofdeliberations, speeches and commentaries concerningso-called health care reform, including my own. But perhaps it is time to step back from this discussion and examine what a health care plan would look like if one took into consideration what the Lord might do. We have some pretty reliable indicators of that in the writings of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. We know that the starting point for all aspects of any health care package has to be respect for the dignity of the human person.

Recognizing this essential principle, we can glean wisdom from these writings. For example, in Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II taught,

If such great care must be taken to respect every life, even that of criminals and unjust aggressors, the commandment “You shall not kill” has absolute value when it refers to the innocent person. And all the more so in the case of weak and defenseless human beings, who find their ultimate defense against the arrogance and caprice of others only in the absolute binding force of God’s commandment.

Faced with the progressive weakening in individual consciences and in society of the sense of the absolute and grave moral illicitness of the direct taking of all innocent human life, especially at its beginning and at its end, the Church’s Magisterium has spoken out with increasing frequency in defense of the sacredness and inviolability of human life. The Papal Magisterium, particularly insistent in this regard, has always been seconded by that of the Bishops, with numerous and comprehensive doctrinal and pastoral documents issued either by Episcopal Conferences or by individual Bishops. The Second Vatican Council also addressed the matter forcefully, in a brief but incisive passage.

Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15), is reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. (Section 57)

This infallible teaching, written in 1995, should be the basis for every pro-life organizational statement, letter to politicians and action alert to rank-and-file Catholics throughout this nation. There can be no justice without recognition of the basic truth enunciated above.

Section 57 of The Gospel of Life continues:

The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity.

“Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action.” (Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Euthanasia, 1980)

As far as the right to life is concerned, every innocent human being is absolutely equal to all others. This equality is the basis of all authentic social relationships which, to be truly such, can only be founded on truth and justice, recognizing and protecting every man and woman as a person and not as an object to be used. Before the moral norm which prohibits the direct taking of the life of an innocent human being “there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone. It makes no difference whether one is the master of the world or the ‘poorest of the poor’ on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal” (Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor [The Splendor of Truth], encyclical letter, 1993).

This is why we at American Life League have insisted thatany health care reform proposal must absolutely exclude abortion, contraception,human embryonic stem cellresearch,euthanasiaand physician-assisted suicide. A just health care proposal will honor the human person first and foremostwithout regard to his age, health or condition of dependency. Such a plan would not place cost first and human dignity second.

In his most recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate,Pope Benedict XVI explains how we should care for the poor, the indigent and those on the fringes of society, whom we are called to serve unselfishly:

Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire Law (cf. Mt 22:36- 40). It gives real substance to the personal relationship with God and with neighbor; it is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones). (Section 2)

In other words, without a union between Christs devotion to man and the secular framework for just health care, there can be no real reform that serves the needs of everyone, especially those most at risk in the current cultural and political climate.

Expanding on this concept, Pope Benedict teaches,

The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbors, the more effectively we love them. Every Christian is called to practice this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the p?lis [state or society]. This is the institutional pathwe might also call it the political pathof charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbor directly, outside the institutional mediation of the p?lis. When animated by charity, commitment to the common good has greater worth than a merely secular and political stand would have. (Section 7)

Finally, as if communicating directly with the U.S. lawmakers who are addressing health care reform at this very moment, Pope Benedict points out,

The Church forcefully maintains this link between life ethics and social ethics, fully aware that “a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized" (Evangelium Vitae). (Section 15)

As Pope John Paul II told the world in Evangelium Vitae,"There can be no true democracy without a recognition of every person’s dignity and without respect for his or her rights" (Section 101).

Forthe past several weeks, we have not heard or seen any evidence that the various health care "reform" proposalsaddress, in any way, the fundamental principles set forth by these popes. It isundeniably truethat manywouldsay that suchrequirements areakin to imposing Catholic teaching on a nation that is proud of its diversity andability to remain divorced from any particular creed. However,I would respond that even if one is not of a particular religious tradition, one should wish to be just and civil in ones dealings with others, whether discussing a preborn child at his earliest moment,an elderly person facing death or a severely disabled citizen who requires care and treatment.

Health care “reform” proposals that contain provisions for rationing of care, as well as coverage for abortion or human embryonic stem cell therapy, represent a callous disregard for the dignity of the human person and are therefore unjust to their core. Such reprehensible recommendations must cease.

What is needed for authentic health care reform is justice founded in truth, from which the charity ingrained in our Americantraditionwill flow. Nothing less will suffice.