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Healthy Debate on Health Care

Christian leaders have reached diverse conclusions about health-care reform and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that the Affordable Care Act stands the test of the Constitution.

In a June 28 statement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reaffirmed its support of universal health care but stopped short of endorsing the legislation.

“For nearly a century, the Catholic bishops of the United States have been and continue to be consistent advocates for comprehensive health care reform to ensure access to life-affirming health care for all, especially the poorest and the most vulnerable,” the bishops’ statement said.

The USCCB opposed the final passage of the health-care reform legislation, adding that the decision fails to address the issues of abortion funding, protection of conscience, and coverage for immigrants.

“The decision of the Supreme Court neither diminishes the moral imperative to ensure decent health care for all, nor eliminates the need to correct [these] fundamental flaws,” the bishops wrote. “We therefore continue to urge Congress to pass, and the administration to sign, legislation to fix those flaws.”

Galen Carey of the National Association of Evangelicals raises similar concerns about conscience. “The Supreme Court ruled that the individual mandate to purchase health insurance is constitutional, but it has not ruled on whether the government can mandate insurance policies to include provisions that violate the religious convictions of some employers,” Carey said. “Congress and the administration can and should resolve this controversy by exempting all religious organizations from provisions that violate their religious convictions.”

First Things editor Rusty Reno opposed the law entirely, saying it is an excessively complicated “Rube Goldberg contraption.”

Reno added that while he does not support the law, he appreciates that the court exercised judicial restraint. “Hopefully this sets a precedent for how the court will handle significant moral issues of our time,” Reno said.

The Rt. Rev. Thomas Breidenthal, Bishop of Southern Ohio, supports the court’s decision, saying that health-care reform communicates an important spiritual message to the country.

“None of us is really in disconnection from other people,” Breidenthal said. “We’re dependent on one another. It makes me happy that we can communicate this spiritual commitment in a new and powerful way. I hope that people will recognize the connection between health care for everyone and the Gospel.”

Sojourners editor and Christian activist Jim Wallis supported the ruling, adding that the legislation is a step in the right direction toward universal health care.

“This is an important victory for millions of uninsured people in our country and ultimately a triumph of the common good,” Wallis said in a statement. “Children, young adults, and families will have access to basic health care, adding security and stability to their lives.”

Wallis said that certain questions are more important than the politics of this debate.

“We don’t start with politics, but rather with how these decisions affect real people,” Wallis wrote. “Here are our questions: how will the results of the decision today affect the people who still don’t have adequate and reasonably priced health care? What about the people still not covered under the Affordable Care Act? Will there still be those who are too poor to be healthy in America? How do we move from a mindset that views health care as merely a commodity and not a human right? These are the questions for Christians, not who wins and who loses the political debate.”

The Rev. Daniel Westberg, professor of ethics and moral theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary, likewise advocates for moving beyond the confines of political debate. Westberg, who is writing a book on the ethics of universal health care, says health care reform should not be seen as a liberal issue, but rather a “fundamental issue of society.”

“It’s a real moral problem in our society,” Westberg said. “We allow people to become bankrupt and face huge medical catastrophes because they are not insured. We tolerate that because we’re used to it. It should be seen as an intolerable situation.”

A political and theological conservative on many issues, Westberg acknowledges that he is more liberal than others on health-care reform. Westberg opposes the idea that being theologically conservative is irreconcilable with supporting universal health care.

“I think you can be conservative about a lot of issues, and yet be opposed to the war in Iraq and be in favor of health care,” Westberg said. “I don’t see why believing in the resurrection of Jesus and reading Scripture means not supporting health care. I find this puzzling.”

Westberg says that definitions of “conservative” and “liberal” are often conflated, exacerbating the polarization of mainline and evangelical denominations. “There’s no inherent reason for that kind of division.”

Image by Wikiwopbop at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0, GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], from Wikimedia Commons


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