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Biblical Perspectives on Socialized Medicine

September 9, 2009
jesushealsMixed in with the many messages sent to us over the past few days, several legitimate questions were asked by our viewers and readers in the United States and elsewhere about the health care debate currently underway in the USA. People asked me to comment on the "socialized medicine" available in Canada and its implications for Christians and Catholics in Canada. When questions or comments are serious and thoughtful, they merit a thoughtful response. In response to those who have asked about universal health care, I am happy to offer these thoughts.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.
For Christians, our sacred scriptures are deeply rooted in the biblical story of Israel and the Jewish people. Throughout the Old Testament, God promises his people that he delivers health of body: "I will put none of the diseases upon you which I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord your healer" (Exodus 15:26). In the New Testament, Jesus travels through the country healing the sick. Among the most powerful and practical parables that Jesus taught is that of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30). When the good Samaritan stopped and stooped to serve the stranger who had fallen into the hands of bandits, a neighbour was born. The Church, like the good Samaritan, is committed to health and life. Our compassion for the suffering of our neighbours commits us to meeting their pain and ends in communion when every man and woman who suffers becomes a brother or sister.
The Acts of the Apostles describe the situation of the first Christian community in Jerusalem -- how these people dealt with worldly goods, how they saw to it that everyone ate well and that there were no needy persons among them.
Throughout the industrialized world, there is a clear split between those who believe the way of the future should be based on greater emphasis on the individual and less concern about people and the social environment, and those who want more collective action to sustain the quality of the environment in which we live and work.
In a society that does not have basic health care available to all of it people, we must raise certain questions. How can we allow a situation where some people gain a greater share of the pie while others will get less? Where some patients will be unable to afford care or will have less than desirable service? Societies that know how to use their resources, human and financial, to sustain the quality of their social environments during periods of major socio-economic changes will be the ones that sustain trust and social cohesion.
We can learn something from the Gospel story of the healing of the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda [John 5:1-9]. What was taking place at the pool in Jesus' time, was a thriving cult to the Greek god Asclepias. Jesus walked into this pagan, highly individualistic environment and offered the paralyzed man a new lease on life. He offered a policy of salvation to the individual person and the whole community.
Over the past few years, Canada has been caught in a debate about the relative importance of the socio-economic determinants of health and the role and value of medicine and health care. Capitalism based on individualism, with little concern for the social environment and its effect on the lifecycle of individuals, will tend to create substantial inequality in income distribution and contribute to the erosion of a society's trust or social cohesion. Capitalism based on a societal context, however, can benefit everyone.
Private health insurance sets up the promise that there will be a higher quality of care for those who are ready to purchase it. This can only lead to a superior private system and a mediocre public system. Authentic health care is that which springs from a communal vision, one that is concerned with the health and well-being of individuals and populations. Societies embracing this model live by a partnership and communitarian philosophy and higher degree of trust. They embody a Christian, biblical and universal vision.
As Catholics, we have very good reasons to support a plan for universal health care, but we cannot support plans that will include a provision for abortion or could open the way to abortions in the future. We must also be vigilant that universal health care does not open the door to practices of euthanasia that are masked as “merciful gestures.” Euthanasia is misguided mercy.
I do not think it is wise to oppose efforts in countries to institute universal health care by falsely assuming that such health care automatically includes opening the door to abortions or euthanasia. Advocating for the dignity of all human life is at the core of my life as a priest. It is at the core of our baptismal mission to be children of the light and bearers of the Gospel to the world. Our task is to build a civilization of love and a culture of life. We will stop the practice of abortion by changing the laws in our countries, and we will be successful in changing the laws if we change people’s hearts and inform their minds. We will effectively oppose euthanasia not by violent behavior. We do not change hearts and minds by hating, reviling and destroying those who think differently than we do.