Health care reform: Save lives, don’t destroy them

Summer is ending and so, it appears, is many people’s patience with health care reform. The daily barrage of information, disinformation and ambiguous answers about the proposals is wearing thin the enthusiasm that should accompany overhaul of a system so obviously in need of reform.

Nevertheless, I stand with many of my fellow bishops in declaring that failure to pass comprehensive health care reform would be a great misfortune for our country. The Catholic Church is one of the largest health care providers in the nation, with more than 600 Catholic hospitals – including seven here in Maryland – as well as 700 other health care institutions serving the American public. We know firsthand the hardship of illness and injury, as well as the burden too many families face when seeking care.

I therefore reaffirm the decades-old position of the Church: Access to basic, life-affirming, quality health care is a universal human right, not a privilege. That access should not depend on an individual’s stage in life, where or whether he or his parents work, how much he earns, where he lives, or where he was born.

The Church wants to be an active health care reform supporter, but in order to do so we need to have a genuine partnership with lawmakers.

The first step of this partnership must include a guarantee that the final version of reform legislation remains “abortion neutral.” Lawmakers must preserve the tradition of federal laws and policies that have barred federal funding and promotion of abortion in all major health programs for more than three decades.

The Church cannot in good conscience support a health care reform plan that could compel anyone to pay for the destruction of human life, whether through government funding or mandatory coverage of abortion. In fact, such a bill would represent the very antithesis of health care.

Sadly, the current version of the House reform bill, H.R. 3200, begins to dismantle the “abortion neutral” tradition. Amendments approved just before the summer recess weaken the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funding of abortion, by allowing federal subsidies to help pay premiums for health benefits that include abortion. In fact, the current House bill goes so far as to require that the “public option” include abortions. This is contrary to the practice of every other federal health program.

Unfortunately, obfuscation seems to be the order of the day when it comes to abortion and some proponents of health care reform. From the reports that I read, the loopholes in all present drafts of the reform allow for abortion at taxpayer expense. The attempts of several pro-life democrats in the House of Representatives explicitly to outlaw taxpayer abortions have been roundly defeated by the majority, with seeming tacit approval on the part of the Obama administration.

Without a change in this approach, it will be impossible for me to justify Catholic health care organizations supporting the presently proposed legislation.

Our Maryland delegation should work to reverse this troubling development. To overturn the longstanding status quo on abortion would be morally wrong and politically unwise, and would risk losing the support of a longstanding ally in the effort to achieve genuine health care reform.

The Church does not want to see reform fail. On the contrary, we desperately need to make quality health care accessible and affordable for all.

Congress should maintain coverage for legal immigrants, and in particular, ensure that all pregnant women in the United States, who will be giving birth to American citizens, are eligible along with their unborn children for health care.

We fully recognize the complexity of the challenges our country faces in our efforts to achieve meaningful health care reform, and we don’t pretend to have the final answers on every aspect of this issue. At the same time, however, we believe that health care reform must reflect basic moral principles.

In dealing with specific policy, one basic principle of Catholic social teaching that would be relevant here is that of subsidiarity. Though not cited as such, I suspect that this principle is at the root of the many questions being raised about present legislative health care proposals.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.” In short, nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization.

As in the case, for instance, of just war and other moral dilemmas, it is up to the “professionals” to apply these solid principals to specific cases and solutions.

In sum, a truly universal health policy must respect all human life and dignity, from conception to natural death. It must provide access for all, with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants. It should embrace the common good and preserve pluralism, including freedom of conscience and a variety of options. Solutions must be found that restrain costs, and that apply them equitably across the spectrum of payers.

The Catholic Church wants to be part of this solution. We urge our lawmakers to embrace these basic principals, and offer a final package that we can enthusiastically support.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.