Jessica Mitford and Ethics.
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.” (www.nursesforlife.org/napnstatement.pdf)
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)
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 FOURTH STREET NE • WASHINGTON DC 20017-1194 • 202-541-3160
WEBSITE: WWW.USCCB.ORG/healthcare • FAX 202-541-3339
December 4, 2009
Support the Hatch-Nelson Amendment to Stop Abortion Funding in Health Care Reform!
The full Senate is considering their health care reform bill. The bishops are strongly urging the Senate to
incorporate essential changes to the Senate’s health care reform bill to ensure that needed health care
reform legislation truly protects the life, dignity, consciences and health of all. The amendment to
maintain the prohibition on federal funding of abortion could be voted on as early as Monday,
December 7. Please contact your Senators today!
Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) have submitted an amendment that like the
Stupak amendment that was included in the final House bill, prevents this legislation from mandating
abortion coverage or providing federal funds for coverage that includes elective abortions. Those
wishing to purchase abortion coverage may continue to do so with their own private funds, but not in the
government-run health care plan (“community health insurance option”) or with the help of federal
Senate: On November 18, Senate leadership unveiled its health care reform bill, The Patient Protection
and Affordable Care Act. This bill has been brought to the floor by inserting its text into H.R. 3590, an
unrelated House-passed tax measure. Debate and votes have begun and may continue until the
In a November 20 letter to the U.S. Senate, the U.S. bishops urged essential changes in the Senate bill:
to retain federal policy on abortion funding and conscience protection; to protect access to health care
for immigrants; and to provide for adequate affordability and coverage standards. The bishops said:
“Sadly, the legislative proposal recently unveiled in the Senate does not meet these moral criteria.” The
bishops specifically said that if the bill’s serious defects on abortion are not corrected, “the current
legislation should be opposed.”
ACTION: Contact Members now through e-mail, phone calls or FAX letters. 1) Send an e-mail at
www.usccb.org/action. 2) Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at: 202-224-3121, or call your Members’
local offices. Full contact info can be found on Members’ Web sites at www.house.gov and
MESSAGE—SENATE: “Please support the Hatch-Nelson Amendment to uphold longstanding
policies against abortion funding, and please protect conscience rights in health care reform.
WHEN: Senate floor debate on the amendment may begin the week of December 7.
WATCH FOR ADDITIONAL ACTION ALERTS! As the Senate continues to consider amendments
to the health care bill on abortion funding, conscience protections, improving affordability and coverage
and protecting immigrants’ health care, the USCCB will send Action Alerts to update you on advocacy
needed to support health care legislation that protects the life and dignity of all people from conception
until natural death.
For more information, please visit www.usccb.org/healthcare. Thank you for your advocacy!
emails may be sent by going here
Although the Christian Science measure calls for reimbursement for some basic forms of care for the sick, like helping them eat and bathe, the prayer component has drawn fierce opposition from various civil liberties groups and child-protection advocates. They say it would violate the separation of church and state and could endanger the lives of minors whose parents turn to prayer rather than medicine when their children are ill.
In the past, some members of the church, formally known as the Church of Christ, Scientist, have been prosecuted for allowing children to die instead of treating them medically. But such cases are rare. And while healing through prayer remains their central belief, church officials say they do not forbid conventional medical treatment.
The church has had powerful allies. Earlier this year, its reimbursement measure passed two committees in the House and one in the Senate.
The Senate health committee acted at the behest of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, where the church has its headquarters, and Senator Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican who is a Mormon and has said the measure would ensure that the health legislation “does not discriminate against any religion.”
In the end, critics said it was unconstitutional, and the measure was dropped from the final House bill and from the Senate version being debated now.
Of course it's unconstitutional to allow the Christian Science church to insert their faith-based prayer coverage into health care cause they're well, unAmerican, a cult, you know, not real Christians. But let every other tax-exempt Catholic or evangelical backed group push to limit reproductive rights, gay rights, elder rights and well, it's ok?
Senator Nelson said this week that he is waiting for the USCCB to weight in on his Stupak-Pitts-like anti abortion amendment before he poses it to the Senate. Perfectly fine and constitutional, right? The title of the article is, witlessly, "To A Divisive Debate, Now Add Religion." As if religion is only making an entrance when it is backed by the Christian Science church?
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"
Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer, President of Human Life International has called for Americans to be watchful of President Obama's appointments to the new Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, claiming the unlikelihood of the advisors to share the pro-life sentiment of the majority of Americans.
On November 24, President Obama signed an Executive Order creating the new Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, whose purpose is to advise the President on concerns emerging from advances in biomedicine and related areas of science and technology.
"As our nation invests in science and innovation and pursues advances in biomedical research and health care, it’s imperative that we do so in a responsible manner," said President Obama. "I am confident that Amy and Jim will use their decades of experience in both ethics and science to guide the new Commission in this work, and I look forward to listening to their recommendations in the coming months and years."
Obama is referring to Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania to and James W. Wagner, president of Emory University, who will serve as chair and vice-chair of the new commission, respectively. Research on the two found that many of Gutmann's publications regard democratic theory, while Wagner studied engineering and materials science before becoming involved in academic administration.
The other 11 appointments to the commission have yet to be announced.
"Does anyone think that even one person on this commission will strongly represent the majority of Americans' pro-life views?" said Fr. Euteneuer. "We saw what the president thinks of bioethicists who disagree with him when he fired the previous presidential bioethics commission the day after they lodged a complaint about his policies."
Last June, Obama suddenly and without warning disbanded Bush's bioethics commission, who's charter was set to expire in September, without allowing the scheduled final meeting of the council. In March, the council had released a statement disagreeing with Obama's position on stem cell research.
Last Wednesday, Obama authorized embryonic stem cell research for 13 lines of stem cells obtained from the destruction of fetuses "left over" from IVF treatments.
"We already know what the president is going to do. He is going to find eleven utilitarians who will carefully furrow their scholarly brows as they tell us that we just have to get used to the idea that some lives aren't worth as much as others," said Rev. Euteneuer. "Then he is going to find two 'pro-life Christians' or other religious types who provide religious-sounding rationalizations for this assault on life."
Euteneuer noted that every one of Obama's current advisors who has written on bioethical issues "is pro-abortion, pro-embryonic stem cell research, pro-euthanasia, pro-assisted suicide. Bioethicists like this strive to create a ‘Brave New World’ for the weakest and most vulnerable of those created in God’s image: those who doctors used to swear an oath to protect."
What is puzzling is that if these Evangelical leaders want to raise up morality in America, why have so many of them openly endorsed the emerging/contemplative spirituality in one aspect or another, which overall ignores or downplays a stand against homosexual marriage, abortion, and other moral issues that the Manhattan Declaration speaks of? Are they repenting? No mention of that. Many of them STILL are promoting the contemplative/emerging spirituality that will continue to remove traditional morality from our society. It seems rather distorted when these leaders are being seen as taking a stand for morality when all along they are promoting a spirituality that ultimately undermines it. We could give you example after example of the New Spirituality’s move away from morality (and we have in many articles these past seven years), and we could give you example after example of Christian leaders’ promotion of the New Spirituality and its cohorts (and we have also done that over and over again). Are these signers of the Manhattan Declaration truly concerned about the present moral condition of the United States? Probably most of them are. But it’s going to take a lot more than their signatures on a document–God will require much more. For one, he is going to want them to renounce the heretical teachings of the New Age/New Spirituality.
Labels: manhattan declaration
I have an article in the current Weekly Standard on the Rom Houben case. I find it fascinating that that Terri Schiavo–and what happened to her–is the subtext of the entire event. From my article:
The case of Terri Schiavo–who died five years ago next March, deprived for nearly two weeks of food and water, even the balm of ice chips–continues to prick consciences. That may be one reason the case of Rom Houben, a Belgian man who was misdiagnosed for 23 years as being in a persistent vegetative state, is now receiving international attention.
When Houben was injured and misdiagnosed, the idea of dehydrating him was unthinkable. No more:
During the years that Houben was thought unconscious, society changed. Bioethicists nudged medicine away from the Hippocratic model and toward “quality of life” judgmentalism. Today, when a patient is diagnosed as persistently unconscious or minimally aware, doctors, social workers, and bioethicists often recommend that life-sustaining treatment–including sustenance delivered through a tube–be withdrawn, sometimes days or weeks after the injury.
I discuss the notorious Haleigh Poutre case, (about which I wrote more extensively here), the little girl who would have been dehydrated but for the time it took to get the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s approval, allowing her the time to wake up. I discuss the controversy over whether he is not actually communicating. And I point out something that I think is just beneath the surface of the entire discussion:
In any case, why the sour response to a good news story? It is hard to shake the feeling that the emotional crosscurrents stirred by Terri Schiavo have been stirred again. Timereported that Schiavo-type “legal fights are likely to become more common as classifications of brain-injury severity are revised.” According to ABC, Schiavo’s family “felt both heartbreak and vindication” about the story.
And so, it seems, Terri Schiavo remains very much with us. Indeed, every time we hear about the newest “miraculous” awakening, we find ourselves wrestling again with the moral import of all that happened; haunted it seems, by her beautifully smiling face.
I've been watching this "pro-life" scene for a while now and I'm only haunted by Schiavo's smiling face in that it is used, she is used, a sentimental storyline of Schiavo's life, trauma, diagnosis, surrounding court battles, media drama, overreach of a Republican government set on using Schiavo as a martyr for their political cause, is used to make a martyr of Schiavo. Note my post a few days ago of a fundraising email the Foundation sent out on her birthday. Note the autopsy, readily available online, that confirms that Schiavo had no cognitive abilities. Note my report form the PA Pro-Life conference in October where Bobby Schindler, Schiavo's brother, used his sister's story to proclaim his faith and my account of the sad, unnatural, sentimental, perpetual state of grief he is in. Note the horrified numbers of Americans who not only winced at the 2005 legal fiasco that became Terri Schiavo's death but the numbers of Americans who ran out to file advance directives saying they did not want to be Schiavo. And not the numbers of Americans who felt the Republican government had no role in working to prevent her death.
Whether the resounding reaction was to government intervention or to the disgusting use of a young woman's life to make a spectacle of private medicine, to the loss of privacy, to the horrors of our realization that we too could be kept alive by modern technology long after our mental state has disappeared.
Terri Schiavo's life and death resonate over these last 5 years because they represent what is wrong with medicine, state law, and church doctrine interfering with private medical decisions. She resonates with us because "pro-life" groups continue to lobby for her martyrdom, have made a passionate mockery of her suffering, because ideology tried to win a moral battle and the courts didn't didn't let it.
And because we are horrified by the way medicine has not only enabled us to live longer but die longer. The hypocrisy of the church clinging to science when it enables artificial prolonging of suffering but denial of it when it allows mothers autonomy over their reproduction or the terminally ill to choose medical treatments.
And the Houben case, despite what Smith says, works in the same way partially because we don't believe he is communicating by typing, because we recognize that being "locked in" for 23 years is as horrifying as being buried alive, because we see behind the sentimentally sweet denial of death his mother has lived in for 23 years, the great encroachment of medicine, the use the church makes of such a man, the use the Terri Schindler Schiavo makes of such a man, and the great myth-making the media has spun to once again play on our horrors, our fears, our beliefs, and our guilt. The mockery of the church claiming adherence to "natural death" when such does not exist for a patient like Schiavo or Houben.
Yesterday I reminded my medical proxy of where my advance directive is. I pray - yes I do - that should I be in a car crash, like Houben was so many years ago, I would be removed from all artificial life support. Not kept around for my family and friends to fawn over, not artificially locked inside a deformed body, in isolation for 23 years, not told by medicine or the church or the state how I am to life.
This is not a show of my "'quality of life' judgementalism," not depression or self-loathing, not discrimination against Houben or other disabled members of society, not an expression of my "culture of death" membership, not denial of God's power, not disdain for the move medicine has made from the Hippocratic oath (total bunk), not fear of being a burden, not fear of having my ass wiped by a nurse, not anything those who work to impose their righteous piety on patients call disrespect for life. It is my moral right. And I am no less a lover of life, all life, for it.