Pope Denounces Health Care Inequality in Rich Countries

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Pope Francis greets a man as he visits a first aid camp set up on the occasion of the World Day of the Poor in front of Saint Peter's square in Rome, Italy November 16, 2017. Osservatore Romano/Handout via Reuters

Pope Francis condemned on Thursday inequality in health care, particularly in rich countries, saying governments had a duty to ensure the common good for all its citizens.

"Increasingly sophisticated and costly treatments are available to ever more limited and privileged segments of the population," Francis said in an address to a conference of European members of the World Medical Association.

"This raises questions about the sustainability of health care delivery and about what might be called a systemic tendency toward growing inequality in health care," he said.

The tendency was clearly apparent when you compared health care cover between countries and continents, the pope said, adding that it was also visible within more wealthy countries, "where access to health care risks being more dependent on individuals' economic resources than on their actual need for treatment."

Francis did not mention any countries. Health care is a big issue in the United States, where President Donald Trump has vowed to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, introduced by his predecessor, Barack Obama, which aimed to make it easier for lower-income households to get health insurance.

He said health care legislation needed a "broad vision and a comprehensive view of what most effectively promotes the common good in each concrete situation."

In speaking of end-of-life issues, Francis re-affirmed the Catholic Church's long-standing teaching that it is morally acceptable for a patient or a family to suspend or reject "disproportionate measures" to keep a terminally ill person alive.

But he stressed that this was "different from euthanasia, which is always wrong, in that the intent of euthanasia is to end life and cause death".

Regarding end-of-life decisions, the pope said governments had a duty "to protect all those involved, defending the fundamental equality whereby everyone is recognized under law as a human being living with others in society."

Philip Pullella writes for Reuters.

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