The Common Good

Truth-telling and Responsibility in Health Care

I have said that one important moral principle for the health-care debate is truth-telling. For decades, the physical health and well-being of our country has been a proxy battle for partisan politics. Industry interests and partisan fighting are once again threatening the current opportunity for a public dialogue about what is best for our health-care system. What we need is an honest and fair debate with good information, not sabotage of reform with half-truths and misinformation.

Yet in recent weeks, conservative radio ads have claimed that health-care reform will kill the elderly (it won't), that it will include federal funding for abortion (it doesn't), and that it is a socialist takeover of the health-care system (it isn't). The organizations promoting these claims, including some Religious Right groups, are either badly misinformed, or they are deliberately distorting reality.

A particularly egregious example is an ad that the Family Research Council has run in selected states. It depicts an elderly man and his wife sitting at their kitchen table. He turns to his wife and says, "They won't pay for my surgery. What are we going to do?" He continues, "and to think that Planned Parenthood is included in the government-run health-care plan and spending tax dollars on abortion. They won't pay for my surgery, but we're forced to pay for abortion."

These kinds of ads should be stopped. They do not contribute to the debate that is needed to ensure that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care. It is rather exactly the kind of misinformation campaign that could destroy needed reform. We should all denounce these ads and urge that the debate be about the real issues.

President Obama said, "I think we also have a tradition of, in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government-funded health care. Rather than wade into that issue at this point, I think that it's appropriate for us to figure out how to just deliver on the cost savings, and not get distracted by the abortion debate at this station." There is growing agreement from both pro-life and pro-choice that health-care reform should not include funding for abortion, but should be abortion-neutral. We will continue monitoring the ongoing legislative process to maintain that principle.

Even worse than advertising, since Congress has gone into its summer recess, organized protests are being mounted at local town hall meetings. The Washington Post reported this morning that Democrats have been met by taunts, jeers, and, in one case, an effigy. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.) was confronted by some 200 people holding signs calling him a "traitor to Texas" and a "devil to all people." And the Post cited a "'strategy memo,' issued by the Connecticut-based group Right Principles, which calls on conservatives to 'pack the hall' and 'yell out and challenge' lawmakers."

We must all say loudly and strongly that misinformation and angry mobs are not how democracy functions. While freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are certainly our rights, those rights must always be exercised with responsibility and accountability.

Health-care reform that will provide quality, affordable health care for all Americans is essential. It is a moral imperative that in a nation as prosperous as ours, no American should go without health care, especially the poorest and most vulnerable among us. Reasonable people may differ on how best to accomplish this goal, and I welcome the rigorous policy debate currently under way in the House and Senate. But in the final analysis, it should be a moral priority for all of us.

I urge you to write your member of Congress, attend local town meetings in your communities, and respectfully but strongly make these points. It is our moral obligation as people of faith.

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