Health reform still full of thorny problems for Catholics


Bishop Robert Vasa

  Catholic Sentinel - Diocese of Baker, OR

Catholic Sentinel
Diocese of Baker, OR

BEND — The debate over affordable health care for America has now moved to the Senate and it is as yet quite unclear what will finally result.

The Catholic support for the Stupak Amendment, which brought the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition of the use of federal funds for abortion into the legislation, should not be interpreted as a complete support by the Church of everything else in the health care reform legislation. For instance, the proposed health bill continues to provide abortion payments in cases of rape and incest and when the life of the mother is threatened. This is contrary to Church teachings about the inviolability and dignity of every pre-born human being regardless of the circumstances of their origin.

The legislation aims at further developing school-based clinics that provide, as well as appropriate medical interventions, contraceptives and referrals for abortion. This is a completely unacceptable use of Catholic tax dollars. It is surmised that the states with assisted suicide, presently our own Oregon and Washington, will be provided with some federal funds for “counseling” for patients who might be candidates for this “medical service.” This too is unacceptable. There has been a program of federally funded abstinence education and the present proposal abolishes this while funding sex education. These sex education programs generally provide information on “how to” while avoiding pregnancy rather than “why not.” Whether this component is linked to abortion or not, and it probably is, the Church certainly opposes this approach to sex education. There may be some conscience protections in the bill particularly with regard to direct and intentional as well as elective abortion but this is grossly inadequate. Catholic and Christian physicians and nurses, well as all men and women of good will, as well as private or religious health care institutions, need to be free from coercion relative to the so-called “medically necessary” abortions, contraception, sterilization, and other “services” that do not respect the value, sanctity or integrity of human life. Such adequate conscience protections are not currently included.

There are other more global issues that make the health care reform legislation problematic. The provision of health care is done in the context of a sacrosanct relationship — that between the patient and the physician. This is both a personal and a professional relationship and the physician has the right and the need to be free to diagnose and prescribe for the patient a mode of treatment that is morally and medically sound. There is already a degree of interference in this relationship by way of a variety of mechanisms, but the reform legislation seems to heighten that interference. Further, the reform legislation moves in the direction of a monolithic system with many coverage mandates and little option for families to change the coverage provisions of their personal health care plan or to form pools that reward healthy behaviors. Many plans, for instance, are mandated to provide contraceptive coverage and any Catholic family who would wish to have this coverage excluded from their plan would be prohibited from doing so. They are thus forced to pay for a provision they oppose for religious reasons and that would, in this plan, be available to their minor children without parental consent. This intrusion into the heart of the family is likewise offensive.

Needless to say, the legislation is seriously flawed and though there might have been some small sense of victory with the Stupak Amendment there are still very serious concerns about the impact that this legislation could have on the provision of health care in America. It is not expected that we will be able to configure the plan in such a way that it would be entirely consistent with Catholic moral and social principles but we must work to assure, at very least, that we are free to live our faith in a way consistent with our faith tradition. The inclusion of a comprehensive conscience protection clause would go a long way in assuring that freedom.

My life, however, has not been entirely consumed by health care discussions. I did make one confirmation trip to Pendleton and Pilot Rock on a very gusty weekend. If the Holy Spirit comes in the midst of a strong, blowing wind then he certainly had ample opportunity to arrive this weekend. The class of youngsters at each parish was not large and, as we have come to expect, a majority of them were of Mexican descent. It is not always obvious that the sacrament has its desired effect but the Holy Spirit often works in the way that yeast works in bread. There is not necessarily an immediate, enthusiastic response but slowly over a period of time the yeast begins to work, expand the dough and make of it something newly alive and wonderful. Undoubtedly, the Holy Spirit did come to these confirmands and he will abide with them and gradually incorporate into the lived realities of their lives those gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.

On the way home I took a route that is a bit slower but much more interesting. I traveled through Heppner, Condon, Mayville, Fossil, Clarno, Antelope, Willowdale, Madras, Redmond and then home. The panoramic views caused me to question why I did not take this route more often. The gusty wind made the trip feel a little like a lengthy battle but this did not in any way impede the delight of the views. Since it was so gusty there was a perpetual parade of tumbleweeds racing across the fields and occasionally across the road. The barbed wire fences were stacked with captured tumbled refugees, which looked very much like prisoners straining at the limits of their encampment.

Occasionally the wind would carry one of the captured lot out of the confines of the wire and allow it to race, like a calf freed from its pen, bounding and leaping across the field enjoying its newfound freedom.

I thought that the escapees looked wonderfully free but on further reflection they were not free at all. They were driven uncontrollably by the wind and were as much prisoners of the wind as they were of the fence. The way of God is freedom while being driven by the winds of our times is the real enslavement.