Kansas City bishops bring Catholic social teaching to bear on health care reform

Kansas City bishops bring Catholic social teaching to bear on health care reform

Kansas City bishops bring Catholic social teaching to bear on health care reform


The bishops of Kansas City have issued a joint pastoral statement on health care reform which discusses apparent flaws in U.S. health care but also points to how the principles of Catholic social teaching can be brought to bear on the topic.

They urged that health care reform proposals be mindful of the true common good, the right to life, subsidiarity and solidarity.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas and Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph Robert W. Finn said that the Catholic innovation of the hospital was a response to Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “For I was …ill, and you cared for me.”

The bishops credited U.S. leaders like President Obama and those of both political parties for trying to address flaws in health care.

In particular, the Kansas bishops noted that around 47 million people are without medical insurance, while the cost of insurance continues to rise. Additionally, the Medicare Trust Fund is predicted to be insolvent by 2019, while mandated health insurance benefits have caused companies to hire part time rather than full time employees.

Employers’ costs for family health coverage also disadvantage job candidates with many dependents, while individuals with pre-existing conditions are often denied coverage, they wrote.

Turning to perceived strengths of the U.S. system, Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn said that most Americans like the medical services available to them and the competitive nature of the U.S. system promotes positive innovation.

“Our country, in some ways, is the envy of people from countries with socialized systems of medical care,” they said, adding that 85 percent of U.S. citizens have insurance.

Forty percent of the uninsured are between 19 and 34. About 11 million of the uninsured, including 74 percent of uninsured children, are eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP insurance but were not enrolled.

“Medicare and Medicaid, while they have their limitations, provide an important safety net for many of the elderly, the poor and the disabled,” the bishops wrote.

Moral Foundation

The two prelates said health care reform must be built on a foundation of “proper moral principles.”

“No Catholic in good conscience can disregard these fundamental moral principles, although there can and likely will be vigorous debate about their proper application,” they wrote.

Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn said that subsidiarity, that is, determining health care at the lowest possible level of society, was one such principle. Living out this principle respects the “inherent dignity and freedom of the individual” by never doing for others what they can do for themselves, enabling them to have “the most possible discretion in their lives.”

The bishops also emphasized the necessity to exclude abortion and protect conscience rights in health care reform proposals.

“It is imperative that any health care reform package must keep intact our current public polices protecting taxpayers from being coerced to fund abortions,” they said, adding that legislation cannot be silent on “this morally crucial matter.”

“Given the penchant of our courts over the past 35 years to claim unarticulated rights in our Constitution, the explicit exclusion of so-called ‘abortion services’ from coverage is essential. Similarly, health care reform legislation must clearly articulate the rights of conscience for individuals and institutions,” they continued.

They further advocated the exclusion of mandated end of life counseling for the elderly and the disabled, saying it would create “undue pressure” to choose life-ending measures and would encourage the ailing to believe they are no longer of value to society.

The “right to health care,” the bishops taught, is a companion to the fundamental right to life and other necessities. But this right does not necessarily suppose a government obligation to provide health care, they noted. 

Saying it is necessary that health care reform protect the common good, the Kansas bishops explained that this is the sum total of social conditions which allow and encourage human fulfillment.

The prelates advocated creating a “safety net” for those in need without diminishing personal responsibility or establishing an “inordinately bureaucratic structure” vulnerable to abuse.

This safety net is related to the principle of solidarity, which they explained as the application of both Christ’s command to love one’s neighbor as one’s self and the Golden Rule. Legislation which excludes legal immigrants from health care benefits would violate this principle, they added.

Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn criticized “change for change’s sake” and warned that a change which diminishes human dignity would not be progress at all.

“A hasty or unprincipled change could cause us, in fact, to lose some of the significant benefits that Americans now enjoy, while creating a future tax burden which is both unjust and unsustainable,” they said.

They called on Catholics and all people of good will to hold elected officials accountable and to protect the right to life, the freedom of conscience, and the sense of solidarity.

They closed their letter by commending health care reform to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary.

“We ask Our Lord Jesus Christ to extend His light and His Mercy to our nation’s efforts, so that every person will come to know His healing consolation as Divine Physician,” their letter concluded.

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