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Catholic Bishops Cautious About Health Care Reform
Kansas City-St. Jospeh Bishop Robert Finn

Archbishop Joseph Naumannand Bishop Robert Finn—leaders, respectively, of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph-- issued a Joint Pastoral Statement this week which asserts the role of the individual’s conscience in his or her own health care decisions.

“To his credit, President BarackObama has made it a major priority for his administration to address the current flaws in our nation’s health care policies,” the six-page statement begins. “In fairness, members of both political parties for some time have recognized significant problems in the current methods of providing health care.

“As Catholics, we are proud of the Church’s healthcare contribution to the world. Indeed, the hospital was originally an innovation of the Catholic faithful responding to our Lord’s call to care for the sick, ‘For I was…ill and you cared for me.’ (Matthew 25 v. 35-36). This tradition continues today in America, where currently one in four hospitals is run by a Catholic agency. We have listened to current debate with great attention and write now to contribute our part to ensure that this reform be an authentic reform taking full consideration of the dignity of the human person…”

Later in the document, the Bishops note: “The justified reaction to the significant defects in our current health care policies is to say, ‘Something must be done.’ Many believe: ‘We have to change health care in America,’ Despite the many flaws with our current policies, change itself does not guarantee improvement. Many of the proposals which have been promoted would diminish the protection of humanlife and dignity and shift our health care costs and delivery to a centralized government bureaucracy. Centralization carries the risk of a loss of personal responsibility, reduction in personalized care for the sick and an expanded bureaucracy that in the end leads to higher costs….”

As expected, the Pastoral Statement comes out strongly for “the life and dignity of the human person,” and against government-funded abortion or euthanasia.

“Recent cautionary notes have been sounded by Cardinal Justin Rigali. Chair of the U.S. Bishops Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William Murphy of the U.S. Bishops Committee on Domestic Justice and Social Development, against the inclusion of abortion in a revised health care plan. At the same time, they have warned against the endangerment or loss of conscience rights protection for individual health care workers or health care institutions.

“A huge resource of professionals and institutions dedicated to care of the sick could find themselves excluded, by legislation, after health care reform, if they failed to provide services which are destructive of human life, and which are radically counter to their conscience and institutional mission. The loss of Catholic hospitals and health care providers, which currently do more to provide pro bono services to the poor and the marginalized than their for-profit counterparts, would be a tremendous blow to the already strained health care system in our country.

“It is imperative,” Bishops Naumann and Finn state,” that any health care reform package must keep intact our current policies protecting taxpayers from being coerced to fund abortions. It is inadequate to propose legislation that is silent on this morally crucial matter. Given the penchant of our courts over the past 35 years to claim unarticulated rights in our Constitution, the explicit exclusion of so-called “abortion services” from coverage is essential. Similarly, health care reform legislation must clearly articulate the rights of conscience for individuals and institutions.”

Referring to some proposals for health care reform that include end-of-life counseling for the elderly and disabled, the two bishops cite an Aug. 3, 2009 statement of the National Association of Pro-Life Nurses which calls for the exclusion of mandates for abortion, the protection of abortion funding prohibitions, and the assurances of conscience rights.

The nurses’ statement maintains the mandating of end of life consultation for anyone, regardless of age or condition, would place undue pressure on the individual or guardian to opt for measures to end life, and would send the message that elderly and disabled or sick are no longer of value to society.

The nurses’ statement, quoted by Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn, concludes, “We believe those lives and all lives are valuable and to be respected and cared for to the best of our abilities. Care must be provided for any human being in need of care regardless of disability or level of function or dependence on others in accordance with the 1999 Supreme Court Decision in Olmstead v. L.C.”

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