Monday, March 15, 2010

Religion and Health Care Reform

In a recent interview on PBS Rob Abernathy and Simone Campbell discussed the role of religion in the health care debate. Before moving into an in depth discussion of the issue, a video of a recent “interfaith” gathering that took place at Washington D.C. is shown. In this video, we see members from a variety of religious groups speak out in favor of a universalized health care plan.

In the interview itself, Abernathy questions Campbell as to her reasons for supporting health care reform. She unsurprisingly begins by claiming that the lack of universal health care in this country is a “moral outrage.” She sounds similar to President Obama, who has called health care reform a “core ethical and moral duty” and has encouraged religious leaders to garner support for it (Unfortunately, President Obama has not explained why he himself sees it as a moral and ethical duty). Thus, it seems that on the surface, Campbell is just reiterating the ethical outlook of the Democratic Party, which vaguely embraces the call for “equal opportunity” and universal access available to all citizens. Supposedly this is an inherent “right” available to people regardless of creed or belief. Towards the end of the interview Campbell hints that her religious convictions might have more to teach.

In discussing the role of death and dying, Campbell brings her religious convictions to bear in a unique and interesting way. She notes that in this country we have a problem dealing with death. She claims that we want to prolong life as much as possible, and avoid accepting death as a part of living. She says, “As a person of faith know it’s not the worst thing that can happen to you.” Her religious perspective comes from her faith as a Catholic Christian and here adds an interesting twist to the debate over instituting a universal health care law. But to hear this voice requires us not to treat health care as a neutrally applicable universal law but instead, as one rooted in an ethical and political history. I have yet to hear such voices echoed on the Left, aside from the vague gestures towards “ethical duty” mentioned above.

What I would like to suggest is that listening to these “religious” voices in the health care debate might indeed add helpful nuance to the debate. When we start viewing health care reform as a particular ethical issue rooted in the politico-ethical background of the U.S. (based on equality, liberty, et cetera) it becomes possible to begin debating the real issue. When we start thinking about how we relate to death as a community, for example, and not just as individuals seeking to prolong their life as long as possible, it becomes possible to re-think how we debate health care. It seems that both sides of the debate have not given enough attention to the ethical implications of universal health care. Instead, the debate has revolved around the economic viability of reform. Thinking through the ethical issue doesn’t require embracing a particular “religious” voice, but it should be a voice that gives “thick” ethical reasoning behind universal healthcare. The religious voice mentioned above is but one example of the type of conversation we need to be having. Thinking about health requires us to think about life, death, and ethics in challenging ways; ways that conversations about the economics of health care do not give attention to; ways that religious voices perhaps do.


weinerjoy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
weinerjoy said...

Interestingly, I would not have linked religion to the new health care initiative. But, in knowing that Simone Campbell is a prominent Catholic figure, I’m not surprised that an interview with regarding that topic would sway in that direction. The blog’s author seems to feel that by infusing the health care debate with religion or musings on religious leanings regarding death, would bring clarity and authority to the issues at hand. I sort of disagree.

While, unlike the blog’s author, I feel that “equality, liberty, et cetera”, are the most obvious and pertinent concerns involved in the debate; I do understand that religion could play a very helpful role in passing the bill. Religion, in this case, could be used as a positive tool of persuasion, just as it is utilized at every level of public elections. Appealing to Americans religion is an appeal to their social conscious. I personally prefer that politics be kept free of faith based pleas because they invariably omit some integral part of the population, but, I see no wrong in utilizing the most effective demands when attempting to pass an important bill.

Teresa M said...

As Josh has pointed out, our society does have a curious attitude regarding death, and as Ms. Campbell has pointed out, religious understandings of death and dying make a difference in how we understand ethical implications of certain aspects of universal health care. Regardless of designated "left wing" or "right wing" rantings of the moral and ethical duty of health care, religion will matter because, as mortal beings, our bodies suffer and we wish to ensure that this suffering has ultimate meaning.

My question is whether our government has a moral or ethical obligation to give qualitative meaning to life. If our health is directly related to qualitative meaning, does this mean that a universal health care plan acts as a form of religious institution in addressing bodily suffering? If persons (or States, as some are now beginning to balk at federal mandates) wish not to participate, if there is no "private choice" given, as in certain religion and school issues, can the government interfere and force the issue? I am thinking now of those parents of children who died because religious convictions denied saving health care. Just where is this line drawn?

Rachel B said...

I think that Josh has illustrated in a very succinct manner the way in which there is no clear line that keeps religion separate from politics and vice versa. Whether or not we prefer that they still outside of each other is beside the point. It’s just not that simple; there is currently, and probably always will be this entanglement. Calling attention to the fact that United States citizens are overly obsessed with prolonging life, or rather putting off death, clearly brings religion into the healthcare debates. Therefore, is it the House and the Senate’s “moral” or “ethical” obligation to essentially give citizens a better or longer chance to live? Or is the ethical duty simply to give them the chance?

I absolutely agree with Josh that bringing a religious voice to the debate will provide new and different ways of debating healthcare reform. The question is, is this a helpful and needed voice?

Claire said...

I tend to view the healthcare reform debate as a political one more than a religious one. Though the debate certainly has moral implications, I think that both republicans and democrats agree that Americans disserve a healthcare system that works for rather than against them. The real debate lies in how that new system is created and more specifically how the new system is funded.
Simone Campbell has made an interesting link between healthcare reform and religion that some feel may help in the passage of the healthcare bill. I must disagree primarily because I do not think that her viewpoint is shared by a majority of Catholics, Christians or Americans. It is all well and good to suggest that Americans need to “get real” when it comes to dying, but when a loved one is at the end of his or her life, I don’t think that “getting real” is an option that most people consider.
While a more substantial religious argument for or against healthcare reform may indeed aid in the passage of the bill, I think that asking Americans to “get real” when it comes to dying may in fact kill the bill.

JoeyM said...

This is going to sound bad but Im'a say it anyway. We need to stop prolonging life. Death has a purpose; For one, population control. I will go into this later. First, let's talk about the article. I do agree with the author that healthcare reform must be viewed from a religiously ethical perspective. One must take into account the way in which we view the world religiously. Now back to my view based on my religious experiences. People die, the fall of man insured that for us. Death is not the end. In fact, death is not even a speck, but instead it is a part of the entirety of the cosmic plain outside of which humanities interpretation of time exists. If we view death in terms of everyone like the author suggests then, yes, we would view death differently. Humanity as a whole would not mourn for the lose of an individual. Humanity would continue as if nothing had happened. This does not make the dead less significant. It gives the dead a chance to truly leave this world knowing that their loved ones will be okay. Let the oldies die. Fros and bell-bottoms went out of style for a reason. Forget universal health care. Let's rely on God and the power of healing prayer. Or His ability to provide for our needs including financially. Universal health care is just another way to gain more control and take control away from God.