Sunday, August 30, 2009

Healthcare Reform

(Twenty-second Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on August 30, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 6-8; James 1: 17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-Second Sunday 2009]

Will it be healthcare reformation, or healthcare deformation?

That’s one way to frame the big question which has been on the minds of many Americans in the last several weeks.

I decided to address it in my homily today, after a conversation I had with one of our ushers two Sundays ago just before the 8:30AM Mass started. He told me that he had been watching a television program on EWTN a few days earlier, and on it there was a panel discussion about the health care bills which are currently being considered in the House of Representatives and the Senate. What he heard during that hour made him realize how important this issue is for the future of our nation, and so he said to me, “Fr. Ray, why haven’t we heard more about this from our bishops and our priests and from other people in authority in the Church?”

Well, you know me, I always try to address important, contemporary issues from the pulpit—even if they’re tough ones, so I prayed about it, and I told the Lord that I would deal with the topic of healthcare some Sunday in the future when he gave me the right Scripture readings to work with.

Well, he did it today; the Lord provided me with a great set of Biblical texts to use in discussing the matter.

So I will now fulfill my promise to him and talk about healthcare reform—but not from a political perspective (I’ll leave that to the pundits on the cable news channels). Rather, I’ll speak about it this morning from the perspective of Sacred Scripture and our Catholic faith.

Let me begin by saying that I think most Americans are in agreement that our present healthcare system could use some improvement, although most Americans will also acknowledge that healthcare here in the United States is the best the world has to offer at the present time. And the proof of that is in the number of foreigners who come here for medical treatment. If they get seriously sick and are able to afford it, they make every effort to come to the good old U.S. of A. to get the surgery or therapy they need.

And I can’t say I blame them.

So reform is necessary; it’s the nature of the reform that has many people concerned and upset.

And I can’t say I blame them, either.

Here, I think, is where our 3 Scripture readings come into the picture. In the first, from Deuteronomy 4, Moses exhorts the Israelites to live the commandments and to be holy, so that they will be known to the rest of the world as “a wise and intelligent people.”

Of course, they didn’t always do that. In fact, many of them were unfaithful to the commandments over and over again.

But one thing the Israelites never did was to try to change the commandments of God. There’s no record in Scripture of anyone trying to officially nullify the 10 commandments that Moses delivered to the people on Mt. Sinai.

But we have nullified the 10 commandments in our civil laws in recent decades, haven’t we? Or at least we’ve nullified some of them. For example, it’s now legal in America to kill the unborn; it’s legal to withhold food and water from a dying person. And it’s legal to do a lot of other immoral things.

Right and wrong are no longer clear to us as a nation; consequently, right and wrong are no longer properly enshrined in our civil laws.

Is it any wonder, therefore, that so many people don’t trust the government? Is it any wonder that they don’t trust their civil officials to do what’s right and to act in their best interests and in the best interests of their loved ones?

Notice what St. James says in our second reading. First he says, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” Then he adds, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God . . . is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Many of our civil leaders claim to believe in the word of God and claim to practice their Christian religion faithfully. But we know some of them don’t live by the policies and laws they support. That’s why there’s something within a lot of us that doesn’t trust them to act in the best interests of orphans and widows and others who need special assistance in our society.

We all know intuitively the truth Jesus proclaims in today’s Gospel (which applies both to them and to us): “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, and folly.”

So the bottom line is that we need to be praying for the conversion and reform of all our citizens—especially our leaders—just as much as we should be working for the reform of our healthcare system.

In fact, we will never have the second without the first; we will never have healthcare reform without the moral reform of our citizenry—even if the healthcare system that’s eventually signed into law is nearly perfect.

If it’s being run by immoral people, it will never work.

All that having been said, let me offer in conclusion some principles that should guide us as Catholics in evaluating the proposed legislation coming out of Congress. I’ll put these principles in question form. These are the questions we should ask before making the decision to support a particular reform plan.
  1. Is the principle of subsidiarity being respected in the plan? The Catholic Church believes in what’s called “the principle of subsidiarity,” which basically means that problems should always be addressed at the lowest possible level. And so the Church would say that you—in conjunction with your doctor, your family, and your priest or moral advisor—should be making your healthcare decisions. Those decisions should not be made by the state.
  2. Will healthcare be rationed in the plan, especially for the elderly, the handicapped and the terminally ill? We should not support a plan where a board of bureaucrats gets to decide whether or not grandma gets chemo treatments or a heart transplant. (This, again, involves the principle of subsidiarity.)
  3. Will the proposed healthcare plan force doctors to provide for or refer for procedures like abortion that they consider to be immoral? In other words, will doctors and other medical professionals be forced to violate their consciences if they want to avoid going to jail? If the answer to those questions is yes, then we definitely shouldn’t support the plan.
  4. Will Catholic hospitals be forced to provide medical services which are contrary to the Church’s moral teachings? If they will be, then we should not support the plan.
  5. Will the proposed healthcare plan use tax dollars to fund abortions? If so, we should not support it.
  6. Will the proposed healthcare plan give us more choices and options or fewer choices and options regarding insurance coverage and medical procedures? (Here’s one time when we should be “pro-choice!”)
  7. Will the new plan help to eliminate frivolous lawsuits, which drive up the cost of healthcare for everyone? (There are, of course, legitimate lawsuits where people seek just compensation for acts of malpractice--but many are not legitimate, and it's those that need to be eliminated.)
  8. Will the proposed healthcare plan harm or destroy businesses—especially small businesses—and the economy?
  9. Will the poor really be helped and have better access to quality healthcare because of the plan?
  10. Will more of those who are currently uninsured have a chance to purchase affordable insurance because of the plan?
I began my homily with the question: Will it be healthcare reformation, or healthcare deformation?
Let’s pray that our civil leaders will be guided by the grace of God in the upcoming weeks and honor these 10 important principles, so that our healthcare system will be reformed and not deformed.