The many moral questions in health-care reform

The Catholic Church in the United States has done a public service during the recent health-care debate by keeping a crucial proposition in play: no reform should reverse the 32-year- old national consensus that keeps the federal government out of the business of funding abortions. Defending that proposition will not get any easier in the weeks ahead, but it must be done.

The defense of the inalienable right-to-life is not the only moral principle involved in the health-care debate, however.  There are several other such principles and social justice concerns at stake. Here are some of the most important:

— The principle of solidarity teaches us to cherish a sense of responsibility across generations.  How is that principle honored in a reform of health care that dramatically reduces the funding of Medicare for senior citizens, as bills in Congress now do?

— The principle of cross-generational solidarity also raises grave questions about the real costs of the plans that have emerged from the House and the Senate—real costs, as distinguished from the numbers being pulled out of hats on Capitol Hill. One experienced Catholic public-policy analyst estimates that the bill brought before the Senate will increase total federal spending by about $4.9 trillion (that’s $4.9 million million) over the next 20 years. There is no way to pay for this, even with spending reductions and tax increases. Does saddling our grandchildren with an Everest of debt satisfy the demands of cross-generational solidarity?

— The principle of subsidiarity teaches us to be wary of concentrating too much power in the national government.  Yet the House bill that (barely) passed in November puts the federal government squarely on the hook for controlling health care costs because it requires Americans to buy government-approved insurance. Voters will rightly turn to their representatives and insist that the government make that insurance affordable. Thus the sea change: the U.S. government will become responsible for containing all health-care costs, which will inevitably involve both rationing and a decline in the quality of care.

Moreover, does anyone seriously propose that a federal government incapable of producing and distributing flu vaccine efficiently is capable of managing a national health-care system well?  Subsidiarity teaches us to be deeply skeptical about affirmative answers to that question.  Common sense suggests that any government, given such power, will never give it up. If we make a mess of this now, we’re stuck; ask the British and the Canadians.

— The principle of the common good teaches us to avoid public policy that destroys jobs; that moral imperative becomes even more urgent under current circumstances. The taxes that proposed health-care reforms will impose on all but the smallest employers who don’t offer health insurance, and the tax surcharge that will be laid on higher income persons who own small businesses, are both likely to discourage hiring and force layoffs. That’s bad public policy at any level of unemployment. It’s unconscionable when the unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent.

— The politicization of medical decisions—which will inevitably follow the kind of health- care reform now being proposed—will put new pressures on the right-to-life principle, as well as on the principles of the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity. Decisions that should be made by patients and doctors will be made by regulators as governmental intrusion trumps moral and medical judgment. How this builds a free and virtuous society, as Catholic social doctrine bids us do, is not clear.

For all its virtues, today’s American medical system does not afford access to needed care for some, so it fails the tests set by Catholic social doctrine. We can meet those tests and fix the system’s gravest problems by working incrementally, testing results as we go: changing the liability laws that distort insurance costs, reforming the insurance industry to mandate portability and coverage of pre-existing conditions, lifting the ban on interstate competition in health insurance, and covering the uninsured by tax credits and small business reforms. That would be health-care reform that satisfies Catholic principles across-the-board.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash