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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Roman Catholicism and Health Care as a Moral Issue

Once, as I was driving to work, a man shot me a dirty look while speeding past me. Presumably, this was in response to my bumper sticker that read, “Health care is a moral issue.” I had learned to expect such disapproving glares from time to time. On one occasion, a driver mouthed the words, “You’re wrong” as he angrily drove past me. I thought to myself, “Now, what did that do for him? Did he expect that his thought-provoking two words would prompt a 180 degree shift in my thinking?” Of course, being the child that I am, I then said to myself, “Oh no you di’int!” and pressed the gas. Having caught up with him, I responded with an equally persuasive, “No, I’m right!”

Although I am accustomed to such hostile responses to my “radical leftist” propaganda, what surprised me about this particular encounter was the fact that the driver’s own bumper sticker suggested that he was Roman Catholic. “But doesn't the Catholic church acknowledge the moral relevance of health care?” I asked myself. After a cursory review of Catholic social teaching throughout the past century, I feel like I can confidently answer in the affirmative.

For instance, Pope Pius XI noted the need to protect rights he considered “sacred”, including – alongside others – the right to health. Similarly, Pope John XXIII expressed support for social and economic rights which pertain “…to the necessities of life [and] health care,” to name but two areas. In specific reference to workers, Pope John Paul II believed that “the expenses involved in health care, especially in the case of accidents at work, demand that medical assistance…be easily available for workers, and that as far as possible it should be cheap or even free of charge."

Now, what exactly is a “moral issue”? I define it as an issue concerning beliefs about how something should or should not be. Regarding health care, it is clear that the pontiffs referenced in this brief review of Catholic social thought acknowledge that people should have access to health care (indeed, health care is explicitly described as the object of a sacred right). Thus, the fact that many millions of Americans are without adequate health care should, from a Catholic perspective, be morally troubling. In other words, no Catholic should be scandalized by my old bumper sticker.

I don’t doubt for a second that there are many Catholics in the U.S. who agree with this claim. Yet it appears equally obvious that many don’t. For better or worse, such prominent issues as abortion have led many Catholics to abandon the Democratic Party and join the GOP. I fear that many among them have jettisoned other Catholic teachings in the process. Yet regardless of one’s party affiliation, and however much I commend the Catholic church for its pro-life stance, I hope that all Catholics will come to press politicians to adopt platforms that are consistently Catholic.