Over the course of the health-care debate, voices of faith have been raised about the moral values at stake beneath the policy discussions. As bills are finalized and moved through both chambers of Congress, now more than ever we need to remind ourselves of the values that move us to reform. From the Bill of Rights to the abolition of slavery, from women's suffrage to the civil rights movement, those who have raised the question of values have often changed our country for the better. Change can be scary in uncertain times, but it always comes when a nation chooses hope over fear.
Unfortunately, God sent Moses down from the mountain with only the Ten Commandments, and not a health-care bill ready to be passed out of committee. There is no one "right" religious position on how health care should be provided. But I believe there are some fundamental moral and biblical principles on which to evaluate any final legislative agreement, principles on which many people of faith -- even politically diverse people -- might agree. After the heat of the summer's confrontations over health care, it's time for a cooler fall debate. It's time for a re-set of the health-care debate, and a return to some basic principles could help.
Five Principles of Faith for Health-Care Reform
- Health, not sickness, is the will of God. We can see this from the story in Genesis of the garden, where sickness was never found, and from the vision in Revelation of a city in which death will be no more. When we are instruments of bringing about that good health, we are doing the work of God. The gospel stories of Jesus healing people, of restoring them to physical wholeness and full participation in their community, always signaled God's presence.
- United we stand, divided we fall. The division between those who can afford adequate coverage and those who cannot is a threat to our unity, to the health of our neighbors, and to our nation. 46 million people in our country are uninsured, and millions more who are insured still can't keep up with their bills. Our moral and religious standards say no one should be left out of a system simply because of not being able to afford good health. The common good requires a system that is accessible to all who need it.
- Patients not profits. No one should be discriminated against in their health care because they are sick. Our faith mandates that we give extra consideration and help to those who are sick, but every time an insurance company denies coverage for "pre-existing conditions," excluded ailments, or confusing fine print, their profits go up. Every doctor I know decided to pursue medicine to help people. Many insurance companies make a profit by not helping people, but our faith requires it.
- Life and liberty must both be protected. The health-care system should protect the sanctity and dignity of life in accordance with existing law and the current rules, and the prohibition on federal funding of abortions should be consistently and diligently applied to any legislation. Strong "conscience" protections should be enacted for health-care workers to ensure they have the liberty to exercise their moral and religious beliefs in their profession. Evidence suggests that supporting low-income and pregnant women with adequate health care increases the number of women who chose to carry their child to term -- if we reform health care in the right way, we can reduce abortions in the U.S. While religious people don't all agree on all the issues of abortion, we should agree that those differences must not be allowed to derail the crucial need for comprehensive health-care reform.
- For the next generation, health-care reform should be based on firm financial foundations. Health care is a vital and wise investment for the future of our families and society. But the way we pay for it should be fair and equitable and seek to lessen the burden on succeeding generations -- both in bringing everyone into the system and by bringing the costs of health care under control over time. Our religious traditions suggest that social justice and fiscal responsibility must not be pitted against each other, but balanced together in sound public policy that is affordable for individuals and for society.
So let us have the moral dialogue and debate -- let's take the best of who we are, the greatest parts of our tradition, and use that to lead the way. The misinformation, falsehoods, and outright lies that have been circulating obscure the moral and religious core of this debate: that millions of people are suffering in an inequitable and inefficient health-care system, and that too many powerful people are profiting from that broken system in defiance of the common good. Perhaps the faith community could help model a more civil debate and find the sensible moral center that will help the country find the best solutions to the health of the nation.
To learn more about health-care reform, click here to visit Sojourners' Health-Care Resources Web page.