Judie Brown
Catholics and healthcare reform
By Judie Brown
August 3, 2009

Our office's recent media release has created quite a stir about the folks at the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SSVDP), Catholic Charities (CCUSA) and the Catholic Health Association (CHA). It seems that our accusation regarding their support for Obama's healthcare proposal did not sit well. So I think it is appropriate to review the facts as we know them.

First, there is the SSVDP's e-mailed action alert titled "Let Congress know that Health Care Reform Can't Wait!" which states in part, http://www.stvincentdepaul.net/pdf/Let%20Congress%20know%20that%20Health%20Care%20Reform%20Can.pdf

    As a reminder to help in your calls and messages, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul supports the Catholic Health Association's Vision for U.S. Health Care which lays out principles for reforming the health care system. We call for health care reform that is:

    • Available and accessible to everyone, paying special attention to the poor and vulnerable;

    • Health and prevention oriented, with the goal of enhancing the health status of communities;

    • Sufficiently and fairly financed;

    • Transparent and consensus-driven, in allocation of resources, and organized for cost-effective care and administration;

    • Patient centered, and designed to address and protect health needs at all stages of life, from conception to natural death; and

    • Safe, effective and designed to deliver the greatest possible quality.

    If you have questions, please contact Desmond Brown, Senior Director of Government Affairs at dbrown@catholiccharitiesusa.org, or, Kellyann McClain, Policy Analyst atkmcclain@catholiccharitieusa.org. (emphasis in original)

You will note that there is no reference in this excerpt, nor anywhere else in the alert, to the fundamental truth that principled healthcare programs begin with a respect for the dignity and innate right to life of every human being, from his beginning until his natural end. No, that message is not there.

What is there is best described as political doublespeak. For example, what does it mean to say that caring for others should be based on a "consensus-driven" allocation of costs? What if the consensus is that paying for abortion is acceptable? What if the consensus is that it is most cost-effective to deny treatment to the elderly when they are diagnosed with a life-threatening condition?

Perhaps the answer to such questions is that what is most important to these organizations is not ensuring that Catholic healthcare principles are upheld in a program like this, but simply rushing to pass "something." If that is so, then one can readily understand the statement the SSVDP issued this past Friday, in which we learned the following: http://www.svdpusa.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=%2bhBoznyVpKI%3d&tabid=36&mid=914&language=en-US

    Again, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has not supported any particular or specific legislation; it has expressed its concern for the need for the U.S. Congress to deal with this most urgent need now.

    "The Society of St. Vincent de Paul does not support nor will it support any legislation, provision or amendment that fails to uphold the sanctity and dignity of human life," said Joe Flannigan, the National President of the U.S. Society. "Further, we will continue to work with the Catholic Health Association and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Charities USA to ensure that any legislation will continue to support the conscience clause protection to health care workers and that the Hyde exception continues to ensure no abortion can be funded with federal funds."

While this statement might make some happy, it does nothing to allay the concerns we expressed last week. In fact, it raises more questions than it answers, by referencing the Hyde Amendment, which is mistakenly referred to as an "exception." The Hyde Amendment has two problems:

  • It permits abortion in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother.

  • It was stricken from the healthcare reform bill that passed the U. S. House of Representatives.

http://www.sbcbaptistpress.org/BPnews.asp?ID=30999 In fact, all abortion restrictions were gutted at the last minute, which prompted American Life League to issue the following statement: http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2009/jul/09073103.html

    "At least now we know the real agenda motivating the pro-aborts behind this bill. You want to talk about healthcare as a basic human right, you want to talk about justice in the healthcare system — where is justice for the child in the womb, where is their right to healthcare? It's denied because an even more important human right is denied — their basic, fundamental, inalienable right to human personhood."

Furthermore, the SSVDP appears to embrace the position of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has requested that any healthcare reform measure be "abortion-neutral." http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/2009-07-17-murphy-letter-congress.pdf The reasoning behind such a request is explained in a USCCB fact sheet http://www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/healthcare/statusquo.pdf and is, to put it bluntly, an egregiously misguided position.

I am not criticizing the statement because the USCCB opposes payment for abortion in a healthcare proposal; rather, I am criticizing it because it is yet another politically motivated statement that, without explicitly saying so, affirms that abortion is an accepted practice in the United States and the bishops don't want tax dollars to pay for it! Or, to put it another way, pay for your own, which is really not a position consistent with the Catholic teaching that each human being has intrinsic value and should be respected as a child of God. Yes, we live in a world of political realities, but Catholic bishops are the modern-day apostles of Christ, Who warned us not to become part of the problem and called us instead to be His voice, regardless of political realities.

The CHA's six "core values" for moral healthcare reform, which are supported by the SSVDP, CCUSA and, apparently, USCCB, include the following, under the heading of "Justice": http://www.catholichealthcare.us/NR/rdonlyres/E60430CC-C0FD-4099-A563-A1C621DC83A2/0/OurVisionDoc.pdf "Health care is a basic human right alongside food and shelter, all of which are necessary for individuals to participate fully in society." This is a laudable goal; however, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, health care is not defined as a basic human right, but rather is addressed in a much broader context: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a4.htm

    The political community has a duty to honor the family, to assist it, and to ensure especially...

    - in keeping with the country's institutions, the right to medical care, assistance for the aged, and family benefits;

    - the protection of security and health, especially with respect to dangers like drugs, pornography, alcoholism, etc.;

    - the freedom to form associations with other families and so to have representation before civil authority. (Section 2211)

Nowhere is there mention of a "basic human right" that must be subsidized by the state. Nor should such a position be supported, since Catholic organizations such as the Catholic Medical Association and American Life League find it problematic, if not draconian. For example, the Catholic Medical Association makes it clear not only that heavy-handed government control of medical practice could result in the American people losing their freedom to make important decisions about their life and health, but also that http://www.cathmed.org/issues_resources/publications/press_releases/statement_on_health_care_reform/

    it is critical for Congress to take the time necessary to address the complex economic and ethical issues involved, and to give the American people an opportunity to review any proposed legislation. Health-care reform encompasses both individual rights and the common good, ethical issues surrounding life and death, and economic issues ranging from taxes and property to economic competitiveness. It is essential that Congress first "do [no] harm" and then enact measures that can respect all of these complex goods.

Just as we were finishing up this commentary, we noted that CCUSA issued a statement in it accuses those of us who have exposed this rush to approve federally mandated healthcare "reform" of being dishonest. Father Larry Snyder, president of CCUSA, said, http://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=1796 "These attacks appear to be politically motivated by opponents of health care reform. They are distortions of the truth and disingenuous. Catholic Charities USA will continue to work to reform health care in a way that is consistent with the teachings of our faith."

First and foremost, it is neither disingenuous nor a distortion of the truth to expose the lack of consistent principle we have seen in public statements made by certain Catholic entities. It is our responsibility to point out what the Church teaches. We understand that Catholic healthcare principles should never give way to political opportunism.

Moreover, there should be no rush to approve any program that surrenders control over one's destiny to a government agency. A government that approves of killing the preborn is certainly not a government one can trust with healthcare.

Contact information for the Catholic organizations noted in this commentary follows, in case you have questions or comments for them:

Catholic Charities USA
66 Canal Center Plaza, Suite 600
Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone: (703) 549-1390
Fax: (703) 549-1656

Sister Carol Keehan
President and CEO
The Catholic Health Association
1875 Eye St. NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20006-5440
Phone: (202) 296-3993

Society of Saint Vincent de Paul
58 Progress Pkwy.
St. Louis, MO 63043-3706
Phone: 314-576-3993
Fax: 314-576-6755

Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 Fourth St. NE
Washington, D.C. 20017-1194
Phone: 202-541-3000

© Judie Brown


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Judie Brown

Judie Brown is president and co-founder of American Life League, the nation's largest grassroots pro-life educational organization... (more)


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