As with any fast-moving and detailed issue, there is much confusion around the current debate on health care reform. I am not a strategist, nor am I an economist, nor am I a health care professional. But, as your bishop, I am a teacher, called to highlight the moral dimensions of this issue.
Health care is a basic human right belonging to all who are made in God’s image and likeness, not a privilege for those fortunate enough to have coverage already. But health care reform is only genuine if it protects the life and dignity of every member of the human family. In solidarity with my brother bishops across the country, I continue to appeal for health care reform that provides for these basic principles:
— Access to health care for all from conception to natural death
— Clear prohibitions against abortion funding and mandates
— Conscience protections for health care providers, both institutions and individuals
— A sure safety-net for the poorest and most vulnerable
— Fair treatment for immigrants
While I was encouraged by the passage of the Stupak Amendment in the House of Representatives, no legislation in the House or the Senate fully embraces each of the criteria set forth above. The bill that the Senate will debate fails to include current policies prohibiting abortion funding and guaranteeing freedom of conscience for health care providers. The bishops of the United States have not endorsed any specifically-worded legislation, but we are absolutely clear that any bill proposed for passage must provide for these basic principles. Then, once these are met, citizens can, with charity and prudence, debate the best way to implement health care reform.
What can we do? First, we must pray that the dignity of life is upheld, that the conscience rights of workers are respected and that the poorest and neediest among us can receive the care they so desperately need and deserve. It is also imperative to engage directly in the debate by visiting www.usccb.org/action to easily send an e-mail to your two U.S. Senators, or by calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121. The Senate will be debating its version of health care legislation after the Thanksgiving break.
As Cardinal George, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said in a recent statement, “We will continue to raise our voices in public and in prayer; we ask our people to join us in making the moral case for genuine health care reform that protects the life, dignity, consciences and health of all.” I echo his appeal and ask that each person in our Diocese pray and advocate for health care reform that respects the life and dignity of all.