What Catholics Want in Healthcare Reform: Should We Cover Some People, Some Parts of People, or All Parts of Everybody?

By O'Brien, Jon; Morello, Sara | Conscience, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

What Catholics Want in Healthcare Reform: Should We Cover Some People, Some Parts of People, or All Parts of Everybody?


O'Brien, Jon, Morello, Sara, Conscience


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THE UNITED STATES IS EMBROILED a debate over healthcare. Ideological divides over morality and money are front and center, and threatening to derail any real progress on what has become a major crisis.

There is a curious divide in the national conversation we are having about what exactly healthcare is or what it should be. More often than not, it's about who or what should be left out of the final plan. Some say that it should only be about providing care to some people; others say it should be only about covering some parts of people. Proponents of these positions claim the moral high ground while seeking to leave out undocumented residents or restrict access to reproductive healthcare. What they are really doing is projecting their own vision of what is moral onto those who will be most affected by this distortion: the taxpayers who will fund and use whatever system emerges.

Coming on the heels of the economic crisis, it is no wonder that many focus on the questions, "what can we afford?" or more precisely, "what are we willing to pay for?" They are not unreasonable questions. But the answers that some people, who claim to speak for American Catholics, provide are not reflective of what Catholics in the United States believe. We know, because rather than simply relying on those who seem to have the best public relations, we asked nearly a thousand American Catholics what they believe about healthcare and healthcare insurance. If you've relied on the newspapers, bloggers and television news, the answers might surprise you.

Most American Catholics think providing healthcare to all people who need it is a matter of social justice. As Catholics, we understand that social justice means we are obliged to be concerned about and care for people who are poorer than we are, or marginalized, or those who don't have a voice in decisions that have an impact on their lives and the lives of their families. When we asked Catholics, they said that their understanding of social justice includes extending healthcare to the whole person, not just some parts of people. As a result, a majority of American Catholics think that reproductive healthcare services should be covered in any eventual reform of the US healthcare system--including pre- and postnatal care for women, contraception, condom provision as part of HIV/AIDS prevention, and, yes, even abortion.

American Catholics don't want to be denied the healthcare services they need at hospitals and clinics that receive their tax dollars. Two-thirds (65 percent) of Catholics polled think that these hospitals and clinics should not be allowed to claim a religious exemption to providing procedures or medicines. Perhaps they understand better than many that the right to object to providing healthcare belongs to doctors, nurses and pharmacists, actual people who have a conscience. These people have the right to exercise their conscience to act--or not act in a way their internal moral compass prescribes. They understand that it does not make sense to suggest that an insurance company, HMO, hospital system, pharmacy or clinic has a conscience or a religion. American Catholics can picture themselves as patients, and want to be able to get birth control and condoms when they go to their doctor. They trust in patients to decide, in good conscience and with the advice of their doctors, on their best options. …

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