Health Care and Gospel Values

Beginning our discussion of the rights of the human person, we see that everyone has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life; these are primarily food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and finally the necessary social services. …  Therefore a human being also has the right to security in cases of sickness, inability to work, widowhood, old age, unemployment, or in any other case in which one is deprived of the means of subsistence through no fault of one’s own.
–John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, 11 (Emphasis added)

John XXIII wrote Pacem in Terris in the midst of the Cold War after witnessing the near collapse of civilization and the destruction of the planet in the Cuban Missile Crisis. In fact, he arranged for a copy of the encyclical in Russian to be delivered to Nikita Khrushchev, the Russian premier. John XXIII was determined to do whatever he could to avert such crises in the future.

Not much has changed—the Cold War has morphed into the War on Terror and we are still in a nuclear crisis. Another war rages on our very soil—the “war” over health care reform. What is it that Catholics and others do not get about the fact that access to adequate medical care is a human right? It is not a gift from government or the governed. It belongs to a human person simply because he/she is a human person created in the dignity of God.

This past week angry citizens marched on Washington. The utter incivility of much of their signage and verbosity should give every Christian American cause for concern. I found a decent explanation of why these people are so angry and so nasty. Ted Kennedy was not the perfect human being; however, I believe he had a sincere desire to alleviate human misery where he could. For a Catholic group to hand out the signs they handed out in Washington on Saturday is an affront to human dignity and civil discourse. The signs read, “Bury Obamacare with Ted Kennedy.” How crass! Bishop Spong sheds some light on the furor of the debate and helps us to understand why some people are so vicious

The readings for this Sunday offer further thoughts for reflection. Let’s paraphrase James 2:15-16:

If a brother or sister is unable to secure affordable and adequate health care and one of you says to him/her, “Goodbye. Be healthy!” without giving him/her access to health care, what good does that do?

As Christians we always face the struggle of discerning, espousing and working for Christian values. Pope John XXIII made the Christian value explicit when it comes to health care. It is the right of every American. Period! End the debate! Now let’s find out how to make it a reality.

In a recent discussion, my wife told a person who was so looking forward to marching on Washington, “But 46 million people in America do not have health care?” The reply, “They can get Medicaid.” Most of them cannot get Medicaid. The majority of people without access to health care are the working poor. They make too much to qualify for Medicaid and they do not make enough to purchase health insurance. The answer also indicates a disdain for the plight of others. It violates and contradicts Jesus’ injunction about what we do to the least among us.

I believe Jesus’ encounter with Peter, the original Pew Potato, is instructive here. Jesus tells the disciples that he is on a collision course with the Roman occupiers and their priestly collaborators. He is setting his face like flint on course and is going up to Jerusalem, to his death as a common criminal on the cross because he challenged empire when it needed to be challenged. He challenged the debt and purity codes of the priestly collaborators. He also threatened the Pax Romana—the military imposed order—of the Roman occupiers. He mocked all that imperial Rome stood for when he dared to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. The nonviolent Prince of Peace was challenging violence and empire. The empire struck back on Calvary!

Jesus would have gone up to Washington, not to bemoan government spending but to challenge government spending priorities. He would have denounced a system that places most of its spending emphasis on defense and ignores the human needs of citizens. He would have challenged the structural violence which robs so many people of their human dignity and their right to food, clothing, shelter, education, and health care. Jesus would have called for access to adequate health care for every person in America.

Enter Peter. “Jesus, don’t rock the boat. You are [placing our security in jeopardy. Things go much better when we lay low and when we are complicit with empire. If you keep challenging the powers that be, it will be all over and we will have to go back to fishing and tax collecting. You are going to get yourself killed and, in the meantime, we will never be able to mop up the mess you are creating.”

Jesus firmly rebukes Peter and all Christians who would live comfortably while empire sucks the life out of the least among us. “Get behind me, Satan! For you do not have a mind intent on promoting what God wills but what pleases men and women.” [Amplified Bible]

Our minds and hearts must be intent on living Gospel values and applying those to daily affairs, including politics. We must promote what God wills—liberty and justice for all. Health care reform is the right thing to do because health care is the right of every citizen.

Leave a Reply