Health care reform must recognize dignity of every person, Missouri bishop says
Bishop James V. Johnston of Springfield-Cape Girardeau
Bishop James V. Johnston of Springfield-Cape Girardeau

.- Health care reform must be based in the recognition of the basic dignity of every person, Bishop James V. Johnston of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Missouri told his flock. It must also safeguard human life while creating “very clear” conscience protections for individuals and institutions.

Writing in a September 4 column, Bishop Johnston said Catholics should understand the principles at the heart of the “delicate work” of health care reform.

“The provision of health care is rooted in our recognition of the basic dignity of every human person, made in God’s image,” the bishop wrote, noting the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching that society must help provide health care.

Bishop Johnston also noted Catholics’ centuries-long work in health care, adding that one in six hospital beds in the U.S. today are in a Catholic hospital.

“Each person should have access to basic, affordable, adequate health care. This is a goal that should be supported by our nation. However, the goal becomes more complex because there is a variety of opinion as to what ‘basic, affordable, and adequate’ means,” he continued.

He emphasized that health care reform must not include policies that “deliberately attack human life,” such as provisions for taxpayer-funded abortion or euthanasia. Such procedures would be inconsistent with “truly legitimate” reform proposals, the bishop commented.

He quoted the U.S. bishops’ statement “Living the Gospel of Life,” which said the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders “suspect” positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful people.

Bishop Johnston then said that some procedures such as in-vitro fertilization, voluntary sterilization, sex-change operations and the provision of contraceptives should not be considered basic health care, because they are in violation of “the moral law and human dignity.”

The violation of conscience is a real threat, the bishop added, citing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s action against North Carolina’s Belmont Abbey College for removing coverage for abortion, contraception and sterilization from their employee insurance plan.

“This action sets a dangerous precedent and highlights the dangers that await if very clear conscience protections are not included in health care reform proposals,” the bishop wrote.

Discussing other concerns, Bishop Johnston said there are “thorny questions” about the role of the federal government and its duties to complement, not replace, subsidiary communities.

The government’s role does not necessarily mean that it should be the sole provider of health care, he added. Government can remove abuses and regulate the health care industry, and also ensure care for the working poor and “the most destitute and forgotten.”

“The essential element of the principle of subsidiarity is the protection of individual freedoms from unjust micromanagement and manipulation by the state,” he explained.

He concluded his column by saying he cannot support the current Congressional proposals because they do not adequately incorporate the “essential principles” he has described.

The Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau also encouraged Catholics to exercise their roles as citizens and to communicate with elected officials.

“May all those engaged in this issue craft a plan that provides universal health care that is affordable to all, distributes costs equitably, and above all, safeguards human life from conception to natural death and the freedom of conscience,” Bishop Johnston wrote.

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