In spite of the March 21 vote in the
House of Representatives to adopt
health-care reform and the Senate's
March 25 vote to amend its earlier legislation,
questions remain about financing
this reform. Like the national right
to self-defense, health care is a fundamental
human right that somehow
needs to be financed.
If health care is one more consumer
product, talking about equal access to
it is wasting everyone's time. Commodities
are always subject to the
law of supply and demand. In that case,
a twisted golden rule (Whoever has the
gold makes the rules!) reigns supreme.
But what if, in some way, health care
is a basic human right? What if it flows
from our fundamental human dignity?
Without denying the right to just compensation
for a person's work, the
Roman Catholic Church has for centuries
gravitated toward the view that
health care is a basic human right.
Catholics in the United States today
are probably more involved in hospitals,
clinics and extended-care facilities
than Catholics anywhere else have
been in the past 2,000 years. Sixteen
percent of U.S. hospital beds are in one
of the 624 Catholic hospitals. More
than 10 percent of Catholic hospitals
worldwide are in this country.
Communities of religious sisters
established most of those hospitals.
They continue primarily because their
vision is being fulfilled by talented and
dedicated lay staffs, supported by the
local communities that they serve.
In each of his 13 encyclicals, but
especially in The Gift of Life (1995), the
late Pope John Paul II tirelessly presented
human dignity as a consequence
of our being created in God's image.
Pope Benedict XVI continues to reaffirm
strongly this divine basis for
Let's be clear: The corporal and spiritual
works of mercy are based on the inestimable
value of a single human life.
As Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan
(Luke 10:29-37) reminds us,
wounded people are our brothers and
sisters whom we need to treat with
compassion. No one is "off the radar"
for Christ's followers.
Not everyone in this country is a Christian,
but compassion is an important
value in all the world's major religions
and even among secular humanists.
No civilization can long survive without
a strong commitment to the common
good of its members.
Concern for the common good of
society undergirds our laws requiring
mandatory vaccinations and the reporting
of infectious diseases. Similarly, we
have made the sale of human organs
illegal. We know that money does not
resolve all health-care issues.
The United States is now the only
major industrialized country without
universal health care. Isn't that unjust?
In a May 1994 address to the
National Press Club, Cardinal Joseph
L. Bernardin cited a June 1993 statement
of the U.S. bishops that called
for comprehensive health care for every
person living in the United States.
"Health care cannot be successfully
reformed if it is considered only an
economic matter," he said.
On February 24, 2010, the bishops who
head the USCCB committees on
domestic justice and human development,
on migration and on pro-life
activities had addressed a letter to congressional
leaders. They had called for
"genuine health-care reform that will
protect the life, dignity, consciences
and health of all."
Bishops William Murphy and John
Wester and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo
(heads of those committees, respectively)
had stressed that a health-care
plan should be "truly universal and
not be denied to those in need because
of their condition, age, where they
come from or when they arrive here.
"We will continue to work vigorously
to advance true health-care
reform that ensures affordability and
access, keeps long-standing prohibitions
on abortion funding, upholds
conscience rights, and addresses the
health needs of immigrants.
"Dialogue should continue and no
legislation should be finalized until
and unless these basic moral criteria
are met," they had added.
The complete position of the United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops
regarding health-care reform—including
their post-passage comments—is available at www.usccb.org/healthcare.
Drawing up a program for universal
health care is easy; figuring out how to
pay for it continues to be a challenge
that legislators will probably need to
work out in the next several years.
As they do that, legislators need to
remember that before it is a political
issue, health care is a question about
what promotes our common good.
Members of Congress have legitimate
differences over how much the
government should be involved in our
health-care system. It already is massively
involved through Medicare, Medicaid
and other programs.
Financing any change in the current
system will require a deep commitment
to society's common good. Although
health care will always involve money,
we cannot afford to treat it as simply
one more consumer product.
Unless we address our health-care
crisis comprehensively, can we truly
say that we are "One nation, under
God, with liberty and justice for all"?--P.M.