Monday, September 21, 2009

A Catholic Approach to Healthcare Reform

By Jeremey M. Davis

Guest Editorialist

Recent debate regarding the nature of healthcare reform seems to be overly focused on the material aspects: the cost of such programs and the needs of the poor and sick. We hear a great deal about the millions who lack health insurance and those who have been made destitute following the financial costs of disease or injury. These arguments are designed to appeal to our sense of Christian charity in general, and as Catholics our natural inclination (and historically our political leaning) is to support programs that help the needy. There are numerous examples of Catholics voluntarily banding together to provide a safety net for the many needs of the community, from medieval Hospitals, to Parochial schools in the 1800’s. However, does increasing reliance on government programs, rather than private charity, leave us in danger of not only a monetary deficit but a moral deficit as well?

We are called to Serve

It is clear that Christ calls us to minister to the physical needs of the community, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” [Matthew 25:35-36 (NIV)]. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we are called to go one step further and care not only to those who mean us well, but to those who may not. We are to extend charity without expectation of recompense.

We who have chosen to take up the cross of Christ accept a personal responsibility to care for the needy. But what of those who may not share our faith? As Pope Leo XIII stated in his encyclical Immortale Dei, "no one shall be forced to embrace the Catholic faith against his will."1 While we can easily argue that mortal law should uphold the heavenly law prohibiting murder (for example), it is difficult to justify using mortal law to force our beliefs of charity upon those who may not be so inclined.

Having escaped a time when the poor went to prison for not paying their debts, are we to embrace a time when the rich go to prison for not giving to the poor?

It is tempting to ignore the objections of a few in order to achieve a noble end. In our culture we idolize the story of Robin Hood who "robbed from the rich and gave to the poor," and oftentimes our politics seem to reflect this ideology. However as The Very Rev. Joseph di Bruno states, "The false and pernicious principle that the end justifies the means, or that we may do evil that good may come, is utterly condemned by the Catholic Church."2

Confiscating a man's wages and giving them to the poor can still be theft, since one might define it as “the illegal taking of another person's property without that person's freely-given consent." Admittedly, there was once a time when the Church used political power to enforce the collection of the tithe, but like feudalism we have long abandoned such practices. Efforts to fund relief services from mandatory taxes seem to resurrect this concept: while the form is different, the substance is not.

Even if policies that compel people to support charitable endeavors are not theft, they still could do moral harm. Dinesh D'Souza, a Catholic native of India, suggests that "Compelled virtue is no virtue at all."4 By taking a man’s wages in taxes and putting them towards charitable causes, we deprive him of not only his free choice in the matter, but disassociate him from any grace conferred by those causes. Robin Hood, by stealing from Prince John, did not confer any of the grace derived from charitable giving upon the Prince. Involuntary giving crowds out the grace of voluntary giving; private charity and virtue both suffer when taxes increase.

The stratification of our tax code creates divisions in society that invite envy and resentment. Where a man might happily give of his time, treasure or talents to help his community, he will react with apathy at best (and resentment at worst) to shouldering an increased tax burden. Dividing society into those who pay and those who receive might cause a man to begrudge the less fortunate who take from his wages without asking, embittering his heart and causing him spiritual harm.

The Great Commission

Not only are we individually responsible for our good works, but we are also responsible for leading others to charitable giving in Christ. He calls us to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” [Matthew 28:19-20] By relying on the power of government to compel others to charity, we take the easy road, rejecting the call to turn others to Him of their own free will. Spreading the teaching of Christ no longer becomes an individual responsibility to minister brother to brother, but an attempt to wield the political power of the majority. In the pride of Babel, we attempt to impose His kingdom here on earth through our political institutions.

Rather than asking “what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” [Matthew 19:6 (NIV)] we are quick to volunteer others to meet the needs of our community. Unfortunately, this approach has less in common with the teaching of Christ than the example of the Pharisees who “tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” [Matthew 23:4 (NIV)]

Unintended Consequences

So far we have presupposed that the government programs are directed for the common good, and that those wielding temporal power have the best intentions. However, the debate regarding whether or not government healthcare will force taxpayers to fund abortions quickly points to the flaws in that assumption. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed concern that “Funds paid into these plans are fungible, and federal taxpayer funds will subsidize the operating budget and provider networks that expand access to abortions.”

Their concern is well founded. As Catholics we have a moral obligation to oppose abortion, yet by relinquishing control to the legislators, we invite the risk that our wages will pay for the deaths of the innocent. If we can clearly foresee the possibility that this power will be abused, we have an obligation to prevent that possibility. Willfully giving up our responsibility to choose between Right and Wrong does not exempt us from the effects of sins carried out by our consent.5

Do the Means even achieve the Ends?

We do not have to reach far back in history to see what happens in countries that put government in the place of God. If we adopt the economic policies of the former soviet countries, can we expect to avoid the social ramifications of such a culture shift? We still may be tempted that the social improvements are worth the cost of government control. Pope John Paul II disagreed: “The historical experience of socialist countries has sadly demonstrated that collectivism does not do away with alienation but rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency.”

In Conclusion

Charitable giving is part of our personal relationship with God. It is a responsibility which we cannot delegate away nor force upon others. By replacing private charity with public programs, we render unto Caesar what is God’s. As Catholics we should avoid the easy path of expecting politicians and bureaucrats to care for the needy and obligating others to shoulder the cost. Instead, a Catholic approach to healthcare should consist of turning the hearts of others to Christian charity, and asking ourselves what we can do to care for the sick in our parishes and our communities.

Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter, “Immortale Dei.” Rome: 1885

Joseph Faa Di Bruno, D.D. Catholic Belief. London: Burns and Oates, 1878
"Theft." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 18 August 2009, 16:20 EST. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 10 Aug. 2004. .

Howard, K.C. "Author's views on Islam fuel debate." Las Vegas Review-Journal, 2004. 18 Aug. 2009 .
O'Neil, Arthur Charles. "Sin." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 18 Aug. 2009 .

No comments:

Post a Comment