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Church has role in health care debate

March 19, 2006
From the Toronto Sun
Few people would disagree with the fact that Canada is facing a deteriorating health-care system. Nor could we deny the present reality that the nation is engaged in a debate about moving to a two-tiered system of health care. Is the only solution to the present dilemma of the Canadian health-care system to create two tiers of health care? How can we correct some of the serious problems in the present system and make it more accessible, responsive and efficient?
Will the poor suffer because of such a division? And what right, if any, does the Church have for making its voice heard entering in this debate?
There are some who say that churches and ministers have nothing to say about the matter! Any church leader who dares speak out is simply written off as "one clad in the armour of religious righteousness," or a foolish person who "condemns capitalism and adopts the posture of socialism." There are those who reduce the health-care crisis to a simple matter of socialism vs. capitalism in a free-market, wealthy society like ours in Canada. That is far too simplistic.
Churches do indeed have something to add to this debate. The Vatican has recently released statistics indicating the Roman Catholic church currently has more than 109,000 Catholic hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centres, convalescent centres and other, related institutions around the world. The Catholic church has been a health-care provider since her earliest years, and knows something about caring for large numbers of the sick and dying. It is part of her raison d'etre.
One of the risks of a private health-care system, if not very carefully managed and supervised, would result in a much higher quality of medical care for those who could afford to pay for it, and a much lower level of care to those who are simply unable to afford it. While the "front of the line" syndrome may be a bonus in certain circumstances, when it comes to health care, it can cause havoc in society.
People of faith and goodwill must raise certain serious questions in the current health care debate in Canada. I cannot help but recall the words of Pope John Paul II in his 1991 encyclical letter "Centesimus Annus," written on the 100th anniversary of "Rerum Novarum" (a major church teaching on capital and labor by Pope Leo XIII).
John Paul wrote: "In spite of the great changes which have taken place in the more advanced societies, the human inadequacies of capitalism and the resulting domination of things over people are far from disappearing." I fear that a two-tiered system might accentuate these inadequacies.
Authentic health care is that which springs from a communal vision, one that is concerned with the health and well-being of individuals, societies and entire populations. Such a model respects the human dignity of the individual as well as fostering a sense of community and trust. This model flows from a Christian, biblical and universal vision.
Is this not what the New Testament author of the Acts of the Apostles had in mind? Here's how he described the first Christian community in Jerusalem: "There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need."