Friday, September 4, 2009

Bishops Offer Various Criticisms of Current Health Reform Proposals

American Papist has been helpfully compiling a list of bishops’ statements on health care reform. Many similarly refer to the list of urgent concerns raised by Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Murphy, while several raise additional concerns.

Here’s Rockford Bishop Thomas G. Doran on the dangers of violating the principal of subsidiarity:

4. The fourth principle is subsidiarity which commands us to seek the most effective approach to solving the problem. Our federal bureaucracy is a vast wasteland strewn with the carcasses of absurd federal programs which proved infinitely worse than the problems they were established to correct. It perhaps is too extreme to say that competent government is an oxymoron, but sometimes it seems that way. The moral principal of subsidiarity implies decreasing the role of government and employers in health care when lower order groups can better serve individuals and families. We need to think of health care as more of a market than a system.

The Catholic Medical Association has warned that: “The clear historical experience in the United States assures that a unitary, or a single payer, system of health care financing and administration would profoundly subvert the sanctity of human life” (from the Association’s publication, “Health Care in America: A Catholic Proposal for Renewal” in Linacre Quarterly, 2004, available at

It was observed by the ancients that usually the problem with totalitarian governments is not that they do not love their people; the problem seems to be that they love them too much — they just do not trust them. To establish control, these governments have always tried to control food. Remember why Jacob’s sons went down to Egypt in the Book of Exodus. But since homo sapiens is an omnivore, this proves increasingly difficult.

Modern socialist governments like to control not food but the means to protect and extend life. Some have called the current efforts of our federal government “senioricide” or “infanticide.” That perhaps is too severe, but we as Catholics should take care that health care does not morph into life control.

And St. Paul – Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt on a proposal that would grant:

authority to a “Medical Advisory Council,” appointed by the secretary of the Health and Human Services, to decide what procedures are funded.

This council would specify what services will or will not be included in the government’s insurance plans.

At present, the secretary of Health and Human Services is Kathleen Sebelius, allegedly a practicing Catholic, but an aggressively pro-choice politician. It is hard to imagine that her selection of candidates for membership on that council would be willing to restrict access to abortion services.

Of course, none of this should come as a surprise to anyone. Speaking to the Planned Parenthood organization during the presidential campaign, then Sen. Obama made clear his thinking on this matter, which was backed up by his voting record in the Senate.

He stated: “In my mind, reproductive care is essential care, basic care, so it is at the center, the heart of the plan that I propose.”

(In this context, “reproductive care” is a euphemism for “abortion.”)

Archbishop Nienstedt continues on the subject of end-of-life care:

In addition to Bishop Murphy’s four points, I would add a fifth. I believe that it should also be explicitly stated that euthanasia, either actively prescribed or passively encouraged, should not be permitted.

This is a serious matter for senior citizens. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions recently defeated an amendment that would have prevented the denial of health care benefits to patients on the basis of age, expected length of life, or of the patient’s present or predicted disability or quality of life.

Without such assurances, the same “Medical Advisory Council” could determine that those who are over a certain age limit are not worthy of further medical treatment and thus none would be provided.

Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik is similarly concerned about subtle pressure on the elderly:

We must also and especially keep in mind that true health care reform must protect itself from the subtle pressure that can be exercised on the elderly and the seriously ill to avoid “costly” medical care. Already, the arguments are being put forth that about 25 percent of Medicare dollars is being spent in the last year of life — as if this is wasteful spending that could be saved!

Fears that euthanasia could become part of American health care are based on the fact that the so-called “right to die” movement has a lot of powerful support. Remember that assisted suicide — so-called “mercy killing” — is already legal in the state of Oregon! That is no fabrication! And when we want to find out how we are going to pay for universal health care, there is a very real temptation by the healthy to look at the “savings” that could be realized if the elderly would just stay out of the hospitals, and the dying would die a little quicker.

In place of his column last week, Madison Bishop Robert C. Morlino offered for consideration the thought of Sioux City Bishop Walter Nickless, which included the concern that:

Preserving patient choice (through a flourishing private sector) is the only way to prevent a health care monopoly from denying care arbitrarily, as we learned from HMOs in the recent past.

While a government monopoly would not be motivated by profit, it would be motivated by such bureaucratic standards as quotas and defined “best procedures,” which are equally beyond the influence of most citizens. The proper role of the government is to regulate the private sector, in order to foster healthy competition and to curtail abuses. Therefore any legislation that undermines the viability of the private sector is suspect. Private, religious hospitals and nursing homes, in particular, should be protected, because these are the ones most vigorously offering actual health care to the poorest of the poor.

I’m sure there’s more to be mined in AMPapist’s list and that the list will grow. The point is that bishops have a right and a responsibility to teach in their own name. Exercising that responsibility in no way undermines their unity as expressed by the leadership of the USCCB.