Aug 262009

By Corinne Winter

Of course, if we ask whether all Catholics ought to have exactly the same opinion as to what health care reform ought to look like, the answer has to be a resounding no.  Still, Catholic Social Teaching suggests that certain principles ought to be part of every Catholic’s approach to the issue. Lists of the principles can be found in any number of documents.  The following are taken from the list found in the U. S. Catholic bishops statement “Sharing Catholic Social Teaching” and can be found on the USCCB Web site.

• Life and dignity of every human person. “We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.” A lot of the hollering from multiple sides that has characterized some meetings about health care would seem to touch on this theme of human life and dignity.  It seems to me that we need to be sure our position includes respect for all persons, regardless of age, abilities, economic or social status. Further, people need to take precedence over corporate or individual profits.

• Call to family, community, and participation.  “People have a right to and duty to participate in society, seeking the common good and well being of all.” Our position should arise not primarily from individual self-interest. We should perhaps even be willing to risk facing some problems for the sake of greater inclusivity. Certainly, we have a duty to seek and to publicize what is true so that we and others can form responsible opinions.  We must not tolerate half-truths, fear-mongering, or deceptive responses from those who are formulating health care legislation.

• The preferential option for the poor.  “Catholic teaching proclaims that a basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring.” This is a tough one. It doesn’t tell us how we ought to change things, but it really does provide a certain condemnation of the status quo in which some members of our community lack access to adequate health care. Further, Catholic Social Teaching suggests that the voices of those who have been left out need to be heard as we formulate policy for the future.  We need to know how they see their needs and how they believe those needs can best be met.

• Solidarity. As individuals and as a nation, we must understand that the good of every person is linked to the good of every other person and community.  I cannot think for a moment that the concern of another is not my concern.  That call can seem overwhelming, and it is; it is, say the bishops, a call to take up the cross.  It may mean I should be willing to sacrifice some of my own comfort to meet the needs of others.

• Stewardship.  We must take care of our resources, recognizing that ultimately we can’t own them, but only hold them in trust.  We are responsible to other persons, to other nations, to future generations, and to God for the way we use what we have.

So, the answer is…I wish I had it.  What I do have is a strong conviction that health care reform is a serious obligation worthy of investment of time, energy and money.  We must keep working until the legitimate needs of all are met. It is not only a political obligation, but a call of faith. In “Faithful Citizenship,” the document published by U.S. Catholic bishops regarding issues that Catholics should consider when voting, the bishops described healthcare as a basic human right and called for a system that would provide quality healthcare that is accessible to all. Some Catholic organizations such as NETWORK, have been lobbying for some kind of healthcare reform for years.  The NETWORK Web site ( contains some excellent clear information for those who are interested.

(Winter is a professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)

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