Bishop still has ‘very serious concerns’ about health care legislation

Bishop Robert Vasa of Bend, Oregon
Bishop Robert Vasa of Bend, Oregon


Despite the advance of the Stupak Amendment in proposed health care legislation, Bishop Robert Vasa of Bend, Oregon says there are still “very serious concerns” about the legislation. These include funding for abortion, pro-life conscience protections, assisted suicide, sex education and interference in the doctor-patient relationship.

Bishop Vasa wrote in his Dec. 3 column for the Catholic Sentinel that Catholic support for the Stupak Amendment, which barred federal funding for most abortions, should not be interpreted as complete support for the health care legislation.

He noted that the legislation funds abortion in cases of rape and incest and when the life of the mother is threatened, which he said is contrary to Church teaching about the “inviolability and dignity” of every unborn human being despite the circumstances of his or her origin.

The bishop warned that the legislation would further develop school-based clinics that provide not only appropriate medical care but also contraceptives and referrals for abortion.

“This is a completely unacceptable use of Catholic tax dollars,” Bishop Vasa commented, adding that the health care proposal also funds sex education and abolishes a federally funded abstinence education program.

Assisted suicide is also a concern.

“It is surmised that the states with assisted suicide, presently our own Oregon and Washington, will be provided with some federal funds for ‘counseling’ for patients who might be candidates for this ‘medical service’,” he wrote, saying that this is unacceptable.

Existing conscience protections in the bill are “grossly inadequate,” he charged. Pro-life physicians and nurses as well as private health care institutions need to be “free from coercion” on abortion, contraception, sterilization and other treatments and procedures that do not respect the “sanctity or integrity of human life.”

Turning to the topic of the patient-doctor relationship, he described it as both a personal and a professional relationship.

“The physician has the right and the need to be free to diagnose and prescribe for the patient a mode of treatment that is morally and medically sound,” Bishop Vasa explained. “There is already a degree of interference in this relationship by way of a variety of mechanisms, but the reform legislation seems to heighten that interference.”

The bishop voiced concerns about the “monolithic system” encouraged by the legislation. He said Catholic families who wish to exclude contraception coverage from their plan would be prohibited from doing so, making contraception available to their minor children without parental consent.

“It is not expected that we will be able to configure the plan in such a way that it would be entirely consistent with Catholic moral and social principles but we must work to assure, at very least, that we are free to live our faith in a way consistent with our faith tradition,” the bishop added.

Bishop Vasa’s Catholic Sentinel column also included a reflection on his trip to make confirmations. He wrote that the Holy Spirit will abide with the confirmands and nourish their wisdom, understanding, fortitude and piety.

On his return home he reported he saw tumbleweed being pushed by the wind and trapped by barbed wire fences.

“They were driven uncontrollably by the wind and were as much prisoners of the wind as they were of the fence. The way of God is freedom while being driven by the winds of our times is the real enslavement,” his column concluded.

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