The Kansas City Star has printed an “As I See It” column from the head of the Kansas City branch of the Catholic Medical Association. The column is, in some ways, a response to an earlier “As I See It” in the Star which was critical of the joint Health Care Pastoral of Kansas City, Kansas Archbishop Joseph Naumann and Kansas City – St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn. That negative letter was printed more than a month ago, however, and the response by Dr. Austin Welsh was printed on November 18. Here’s Dr. Welsh:
Archbishop Joseph Naumann and Bishop Robert Finn in their recent pastoral letter on health care provide sensible guidance in the reform debate.
That the American people deserve better access to affordable care is not in question but rather whether the federal government is the proper actor to provide this access. Experience shows that people’s needs are best handled locally whenever possible.
This principle of subsidiarity has a long history in the church’s teachings. Some people may question the interpretation of subsidiarity given in the letter by Naumann and Finn. But the authority of the bishops is bolstered by the quotations in the letter from Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and indeed the principle applies to the current debate.
In his most recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI mentions subsidiarity a dozen times. In his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict wrote:
“The state which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person — every person — needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a state which regulates and controls everything, but a state which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need.”
Naumann and Finn also address another concern perhaps more concrete in taxpayers’ minds. Are public funds really going to pay for elective abortions and other morally questionable procedures?
That is not the sort of health care most of us would care to subsidize. In his Sept. 29 statement for Respect Life Sunday, Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, wrote: “Yet despite the opposition of 67 percent of Americans to taxpayer-funded abortion, all … health care proposals being considered by Congress would allow or mandate abortion funding either through premiums paid into government programs or out of federal revenues.”
It was only after much wrangling that the House amended its version to specifically prevent public funding for abortions. Now we wait to see whether the Senate follows suit. Those who are shepherding this bill through Congress seem reluctant to codify an exception for abortion and euthanasia, even as they say such things will not be paid for with our money.
Naumann and Finn join their brother U.S. bishops as they advocate health care reform, which incorporates these basic ethical principles:
•A truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity.
•Access for all with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants.
•Pursuing the common good and preserving pluralism including freedom of conscience and variety of options.
•Restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers.
Naumann, Finn and the other U.S. bishops are right to remind us of the duty we have to protect the most vulnerable patients, and any health care legislation that fails to do so, no matter how well intentioned it may be, cannot be morally justified.
Austin Welsh is a geriatrician. He is a lifelong Catholic and serves as the first president of the Kansas City Guild of the Catholic Medical Association. He lives in Overland Park.