Saturday, December 5, 2009

Subsidiarity is that principle by which we respect the inherent dignity and freedom of the individual.

"Subsidiarity is that principle by which we respect the inherent dignity and freedom of the individual by never doing for others what they can do for themselves and thus enabling individuals to have the most possible discretion in the affairs of their lives."
- Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn, A Joint Pastoral Statement

Sounds good to me. Yet, what the bishops are encouraging, of course, is that individuals only have this right to do for themselves so long as the Catholic Church approves of what they are doing. Here's an excerpt from their statement from September that makes the superiority of their morality quite clear:

A Renewal Built on Principles

We claim no expertise in economics or the complexities of modern medical science. However, effective health care policies must be built on a foundation of proper moral principles. The needed change in health care must therefore flow from certain principles that protect the fundamental life and dignity of the human person and the societal principles of justice, which are best safeguarded when such vital needs are provided for in a context of human love and reason, and when the delivery of care is determined at the lowest reasonable level. The rich tradition of Catholic social and moral teaching should guide our evaluation of the many and varied proposals for health care reform. It is our intention in this pastoral reflection to identify and explain the most important principles for evaluating health care reform proposals. No Catholic in good conscience can disregard these fundamental moral principles, although there can and likely will be vigorous debate about their proper application.

I. The Principle of Subsidiarity: Preamble to the Work of Reform

This notion that health care ought to be determined at the lowest level rather than at the higher strata of society, has been promoted by the Church as “subsidiarity.” Subsidiarity is that principle by which we respect the inherent dignity and freedom of the individual by never doing for others what they can do for themselves and thus enabling individuals to have the most possible discretion in the affairs of their lives. (See: Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, ## 185ff.; Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1883) The writings of recent Popes have warned that the neglect of subsidiarity can lead to an excessive centralization of human services, which in turn leads to excessive costs, and loss of personal responsibility and quality of care.

Pope John Paul II wrote:

“By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.” (Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus #48)

And Pope Benedict writes:

“The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. … In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3)—a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est #28)

While subsidiarity is vital to the structure of justice, we can see from what the Popes say that it rests on a more fundamental principal, the unchanging dignity of the person. The belief in the innate value of human life and the transcendent dignity of the human person must be the primordial driving force of reform efforts.

II. Principle of the Life and Dignity of the Human Person: Driving Force for Care, and Constitutive Ground of Human Justice

A. Exclusion of Abortion and Protection of Conscience Rights

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 private 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 that any health care reform package must keep intact our current public polices 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.

B. Exclude Mandated End of Life Counseling for Elderly and Disabled

Some proposals for government reform have referenced end of life counseling for the elderly or disabled.

An August 3, 2009 Statement of the National Association of Pro-Life Nurses on Health Care Legislation, in addition to calling for the exclusion of mandates for abortion, the protection of abortion funding prohibitions, and the assurance of conscience rights, insists that 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 they are no longer of value to society.

The nurses’ statement 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.” (

Recently, Bishop Walker Nickless of the Catholic Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, commented on the dangers inherent in the establishment of a health care monopoly, drawing a comparison to the experience of HMO plans in our country, where individuals entrusted with keeping the cost of health care at a minimum may refuse to authorize helpful or necessary treatment for their clients. (See Bishop Walker Nickless, Column in The Catholic Globe, August 13, 2009)

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