Our Health Care Debacle!

Archbishop Charles Chaput Reveals The Harsh Reality Facing Our Catholic Hospitals And Health-Care Professionals.

Archbishop Charles Chaput delivered an address to health care professionals in Houston, the following is a slightly edited, abbreviated version of the actual address.

Scattered through the Gospels are brief summaries of how Jesus and his disciples understood his mission. Here’s one of them from the Gospel of Matthew: “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages … preaching the gospel of the Kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity” (Mt 9:35). Jesus redeemed the whole human person – mind, body and spirit.

Jesus gave this same mission to his Church. He told his apostles: “Whenever you enter a town … heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near you’” (Lk 10:9). Thus, wherever a local Church was founded, Christians started ministries to the sick, especially to the weak and most vulnerable. They didn’t ask permission from the civil authorities. They didn’t do these things to show good citizenship, or because it was lucrative business. They cared for the sick because that’s what Jesus did. And that’s what he commanded his disciples to do.

Catholic Hospitals Are At A Crossroads

Our mission has brought us to a crossroads with the current national debate over health-care reform . We face big economic and philosophical questions about the viability of the Catholic health-care ministry.

What Is Your Identity & Mission As A Health Care Professional?

But I want to talk about the one question that undergirds all the others. That’s the question of your Catholic identity and your mission: Who are you? And what does it really mean to be a Catholic health-care professional?

Back To Our Roots; The Hippocratic Oath

Dr. Herbert Ratner, a Catholic and a family practice doctor who devoted his life to questions of medical ethics, believed that the ancient Hippocratic Oath sworn by physicians for 2,500 years offered another path. It could serve as a cornerstone for the identity of persons working in health care. It could be a shield from what he called bullying by the state, “the dehumanization of society and the brutalization of medicine.”2 Unfortunately, the original oath is rarely used these days.

Louis Lasagna rewrote and arguably softened it in 1964. We should also remember that while the original oath barred physicians from helping with abortions – in fact, the oath specifically rejects medical aid for abortions and physician-assisted suicide — some sources suggest that Hippocrates himself may have invented surgical tools to perform abortions. Abortion, of course, was common in the pre-Christian world.

Unfortunately, we live in a time when both of those simple words – “human” and “person” – have disputed meanings, and the idea of the “sanctity” of human life is sometimes seen as little more than romantic poetry. And this cultural confusion, fueled by trends in our science and technology, is magnified in the current debates over health-care reform.

The State Is Pushing Catholic Hospitals To Perform Abortions . . .

In a number of states, the Church has faced government attempts to press Catholic hospitals, clinics and other social service institutions into violating their religious principles. This is becoming a national pattern. In Colorado, to name just one example, lawmakers recently tried to block the sale of two local hospitals to a large Catholic hospital system unless the Catholic system agreed to demands that it arrange for abortions, sterilizations, and other so-called women’s services.

The question we should ask ourselves is this: What kind of a society would need to coerce religious believers into doing things that undermine their religious convictions — especially when those same believers provide vital services to the public.

Massachusetts, A Sign Of The Future!

Massachusetts, wanting to provide emergency contraception drugs to the victims of sexual assault, pushed through a law that requires Catholic hospitals to administer drugs even if they might act to cause an abortion.

Clearly that’s bad law and bad medicine. And it sets a dangerous precedent because it allows the government to directly interfere in the doctor-patient relationship. In effect, it dictates the exact medical procedure that doctors must follow in every case, no matter what their professional judgment might be. It requires doctors and nurses to be the enforcers of state abortion ideology.

We now often see in the actions of our public authorities the opposite of what the American Founders intended for our country. The Founders worked hard to create the structures of a limited government subordinate to civil society. Civil society is much larger and much more alive than the state. And to stay that way, it depends for its survival on the autonomy and free cooperation of its parts – families, communities, churches, synagogues, and fraternal and charitable associations. All of these entities have rights completely independent of government. Rights that precede the state.

Now how does all this relate to the very practical topic of our time together today: health-care reform and the future of the Catholic health-care ministry?

I’ll answer with a few simple facts.

  1. While access to decent health care may not seem like a “right” to some people in the same sense as our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – reasonable people might reasonably disagree about that — the Church does see it as a right.
  2. A government role in ensuring basic health care for all citizens and immigrants can be very legitimate and even required. But that doesn’t justify excluding government from helping to solve chronic problems when no other solutions work.
  3. The principle of subsidiarity reminds us that problems should be solved as locally as possible.
  4. No national health-care plan can be morally legitimate if it allows, even indirectly, for the killing of the unborn, or discriminatory policies and pressures against the elderly, the infirm and the disabled. Protecting the unborn child and serving the poor are not unrelated issues. They flow from exactly the same Christian duty to work for social justice.
  5. The health-care reform proposals with any hope of advancing now in Washington all remain fatally flawed on the abortion issue, conscience protections and the inclusion of immigrants.

So what do you need to do as Catholic health-care professionals in the face of these challenges?

Have courage.  Trust in God.  Speak up and defend your Catholic faith with your medical colleagues.  Commit yourself to good and moral medicine.  Get involved and fight hard for the conscience rights of your fellow Catholics and their institutions.  Remember the Hippocratic Oath.  Dedicate yourselves again to being truly Christian and deeply Catholic health-care professionals.

You and I and all of us – we’re disciples first. That’s why you gave your heart and all your talent to this extraordinary vocation in the first place. Remember that as you go home today. Use up your lives for the glory of God and the dignity of your patients. You walk in the footsteps of the Healer of humanity and Redeemer of history.  In healing the sick, proclaim his Kingdom with the witness of your lives.

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