A Moral Case for Health Care Reform

John Gehring, part of the CAP Action co-sponsored 40 Days for Health Reform campaign, probes questions at the heart of the health reform debate.

Supporters for and against health care reform shout at each other at a town hall style meeting in Vermont.  (AP/Charles Dharapak)
Supporters for and against health care reform shout at each other at a town hall style meeting in Vermont.  (AP/Charles Dharapak)

If you watch enough cable news you might think the fight over health care reform has been reduced to protesters screaming about socialism, “death panels,” and the evils of government. But a new campaign organized by Christian, Jewish, and Muslim organizations united behind health care reform as a moral imperative offers a stark contrast to the anger and misinformation distorting this critical debate.

Our coalition, 40 Days for Health Reform, hosted a national conference call with President Barack Obama last week that featured religious leaders and engaged citizens sharing painful stories from the front lines of a broken health care system, and 140,000 citizens participated. Instead of shouting and demagoguery, there was thoughtful reflection, civil dialogue, and factual analysis. Ministers and rabbis spoke about values that transcend partisan politics and narrow ideologies. A Muslim-American neurologist expressed frustration with insurance companies that deny coverage to those in desperate need of treatment. A 15-year-old Catholic with scoliosis talked about how her family is going without medical care because they lost Medicaid coverage. A Christian minister spoke of a parishioner without insurance whose cancer remained undiagnosed until it was too late.

These powerful testimonies remind us that health care reform is not an abstract issue. We see needless suffering each day in our congregations and communities because quality health care is not available to all. This is a grave injustice. The faith community refuses to concede the debate to talk radio pundits, Washington insiders, or special interests defending the status quo. We will not be satisfied until all Americans have access to quality and affordable health care.

The 40 Days for Health Reform campaign includes more than 30 denominations and religious organizations that represent Americans across race, region, and political affiliation. The campaign includes a national TV ad on CNN, prayer vigils, sermon weekends, and visits with key members of Congress. This next month will be critical as Congress tackles several reform proposals. Each day 14,000 Americans lose their health insurance and working families struggle to pay medical bills. Comprehensive reform can’t wait any longer. As Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once preached, we believe in the “fierce urgency of now.”

Profound moral and ethical questions are at the heart of complicated legislative battles over health care. Even if we are satisfied with our own health care, what responsibility do we have as a society to make sure the system works for everyone? How do we balance individual interests with policies that best serve the common good? Specific solutions to a 21st century health care crisis can’t be found in the Bible, Koran, or the Torah, but our faith traditions offer timeless values about human dignity, compassion, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. People of goodwill can disagree over the most effective ways to ensure reform. Yet we must not waver from this core principle: Health care is a human right, not a privilege.

The faith community also has an important responsibility to correct those bearing false witness in this debate. Fears that seniors will be denied life-saving care or that doctors will be forced to perform abortions against their ethical principles are gross distortions perpetuated by ideologues more interested in handing the Obama administration a political defeat than ensuring all Americans have quality health care. There are longstanding polices that address federal taxpayer funding of abortions and sensible conscience protections for health care providers. There is no need to rehash these issues in order to achieve health care reform. In contrast to outrageous claims about “death panels,” a provision in the House legislation would allow Medicare to reimburse doctors for voluntary counseling sessions with patients that include discussions about living wills and hospice care. The Catholic Health Association has stated the provision would not encourage euthanasia, and a diverse range of groups including The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the American Medical Association, and the AARP support it.

Faith-based movements have always inspired our nation to live up to its highest ideals. We know that justice and change never come easily. Again, people of faith are on the march, united in the belief that hope is more powerful than fear.

John Gehring is deputy communications director and senior writer for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

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