Health Care Reform: A Test of Moral Leadership - Part 2
Bishop Arthur Joseph Serratelli, Bishop of Paterson, New Jersey
Published on the Diocesan Website
August 3, 2009
During the days of the Roman Empire, people could expect to live a mere 22 to
25 years. In 1900, the world life expectancy rose to 30 years. However, in the
twentieth century, there have been major advances made in medicine, nutrition
and in health care. As a result, the average life expectancy has risen rather
rapidly. Currently, life expectancy in the most developed countries is
approaching the range of the mid-80s.
The United States spends more money than any other country on health care. Yet,
the life expectancy of Americans is not the highest in the world. The United
States ranks 50th out of 224 nations in terms of life expectancy. In the United
States, life expectancy peaks at 78 years old. Greeks, Portuguese and Spaniards
have a greater life expectancy today.
At a time when life expectancy for the total population is at an all time high,
up from 49 years at the turn of the 20th century, the issue of age is enough to
make all of us take the time to understand the principles and the practical
consequences of any new government health care program. But concern for the
elderly is just one of the many, many challenges that face the reform of our
health care system.
In the speech to Planned Parenthood activists in July 2007, President Obama
pledged to cover abortions in any national health care plan. During his campaign
for office, the President expressed his view that reproductive health care is
basic health care. “Reproductive health care” is the very word that abortion
advocates use when speaking of abortion. In the new plan, will abortion be
provided under essential medical services? Will the new health care proposal
include abortion? (cf. Penny Starr, Obama Health Care Plan Will Provide
Taxpayer-Funded Abortion on Demand, July 15, 2009). No health plan, for which
all of us will be paying, should put us in the morally unacceptable position of
paying for the destruction of human life. Mandatory coverage of abortion is
morally wrong and ethically reprehensible.
Choice has been a hallmark of the American way of life. Will choice be severely
limited when the government takes over our health care? Who will have the right
to make the decisions? Will our physicians, nurses and hospitals be bound more
by government policies than the patient’s condition and moral principles?
There is no denying that our health care should be improved. There are strong
and continued cries to cut the costs. There is an urgent need to include the
uninsured. The President is campaigning for his new health plan with the promise
of extending health benefits to the many uninsured and cutting costs. But at
what price will this new plan achieve its goal?
In Catholic social teaching, health care is a human right for all at every stage
of life. If our country is to reform our health care, such a reform will only be
sound if it is based on ethical principles. Any truly universal health care
system must respect the dignity of human life of all persons from the moment of
conception to the moment of natural death. The freedom of conscience needs to be
part of the discussion. So also access to health care for the poor and the legal
immigrants. A sound health care system never benefits one group at the expense
Any government that selects who lives and who dies either by mandating abortions
under the rubric of reproductive heath care or by denying care to the elderly
under the rubric of a wise use of resources has lost its moral compass. Such a
government forfeits its right to lead for it is working against the common good.
Our country is now engaged in a most earnest debate that touches the life of
every citizen. This is neither a Republican nor a Democratic issue. The
underlying questions transcend partisan decisions. They are moral issues. Not
one of us will go unaffected by the choices that are made. To rush a new system
into place without a full and honest disclosure of all its elements and without
a full and honest discussion of all its provisions would simply put politics
over principle. In the end, not only the elderly, but all of us will be
shortchanged. Today’s much needed reform of our health care system is truly a
test of moral leadership.
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