by Frank S Rosenbloom, M.D.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) decades’ old position that all persons have the “right to adequate healthcare” and their overall support of Obamacare were a deal with the devil.
“The Catholic bishops fully understood that president Obama was making every possible attempt to exclude conscience protection, yet they were willing to go along with his healthcare plan without receiving assurances that this would change. Therefore, the bishops were advocating unprecedented control over the lives of the citizens of this country by a president who is the most ardent supporter of actions antithetical to the Catholic Church who has ever held the office of president.”
This deal with the devil has now predictably erupted – in the current situation regarding contraception and the Catholic Church.
I would like to begin by noting that I am Catholic and I hold beliefs in concordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church. Nonetheless, I am not commenting in this article primarily as a Catholic nor as a pro-life advocate (which I am), but as a supporter of religious freedom and of all of the freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution. Additionally, as a member of Docs 4 Patient Care, a secular organization of doctors dedicated to patient advocacy, I support the healthcare reforms advocated by that group. I will endeavor herein to explain the inconsistencies in the actions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and to show that their support for the majority of the legislation in Obamacare led to their current dilemma.
The United States conference of Catholic Bishops has rightly refused to accept a recent compromise by the Obama administration on the mandatory provision of contraception for employees of Catholic institutions. Nothing offered by the Obama administration thus far is an acceptable reversal of Mr. Obama’s attack on religious freedom.
The bishops rightly point out that removing Catholic institutions from the equation by not requiring them to directly pay for contraception is merely subterfuge. Catholic institutions will be paying for insurance that is mandated to provide contraception free of charge to anyone who is a beneficiary of that insurance. This is rather like absolving the driver of the getaway car for the bank robbery committed by his colleagues. It is clear that forcing the Catholic Church or any other religious organization to pay for insurance that in an obligatory way provides services that are not acceptable to that religious organization is forcing that organization to be complicit in actions that are contrary to their religious beliefs, thereby infringing on religious liberty.
Of course, this is just another example of the administration’s point of view that free services must be provided as “rights” by private organizations, such as employers and insurance companies, at their own expense. Of course, who could argue that a person has a right to carefree sex at taxpayer expense? It’s perfectly understandable that the Obama administration believes that it is the responsibility of the American taxpayer to make sure that all Americans have the right to the recreational use of their sexual organs completely free from responsibility. It is no doubt surprising to many of our more left-leaning citizens that this right was not specifically included in the Constitution. Why should it be so surprising to us that the Obama administration and its supporters consider it the responsibility of the American taxpayer to ensure that all frisky citizens have the right to a social life paid for by someone else?
After all, the liberal left has redefined the meaning of rights. Our Constitution defines rights as those principles inherent to the dignity of the human person that cannot be denied. Rights under the Constitution are fairly simple and well defined and none of these rights require large government bureaucracies and billions or trillions of tax dollars to provide them. There is in fact no positive action that the government must take in order to provide for any of our First Amendment rights. There are no bureaucracies, such as “Free Speechicare or Freespeechicaid” to ensure the provision of free speech. Freedom of speech is “priceless” but it does not really cost us anything to provide it. Of course, we do have a Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of investigation that are supposed to make sure that we are not prevented from exercising our rights, but there is no agency responsible for providing them. The FBI, the federal law enforcement agency that is charged with preventing the infringement of our rights, had a budget for fiscal year 2011 that was only $8 billion. In fact, the budget of the entire Department of Justice for 2011 was only about $28 billion, and this includes the budget for the FBI. Contrast this with the entire US budget of nearly $3.8 trillion for 2011, out of which well over $1.5 trillion (and the Obamacare budget is not yet added in) were spent on services that are now considered to be rights that must be provided, such as healthcare, education, housing (HUD) and now, contraception. The point here is that the prevention of the infringement of rights is much less expensive than the cost of providing commodities and services that are now considered to be rights.
So, how does this all tie in with the current situation regarding contraception and the Catholic Church? The US conference of Catholic Bishops came out with a pastoral letter in 1981 affirming that all persons have the “right to adequate healthcare.” This was reaffirmed again in an October 2009 letter by the United States Congress of Catholic bishops to members of Congress expressing disappointment that progress had not been made in excluding mandated coverage for abortion, promoting rights of conscience and, at the same time to “improve people’s health care.” The concept of and the implementation of “universal healthcare” was promoted by the bishops while at the same time they opposed aspects of the president’s health plan that interfered with religious freedom or promoted taxpayer-funded actions that were considered to be unacceptable to the Catholic Church. Herein lies the catch. The Catholic bishops fully understood that president Obama was making every possible attempt to exclude conscience protection, yet they were willing to go along with his healthcare plan without receiving assurances that this would change. Therefore, the bishops were advocating unprecedented control over the lives of the citizens of this country by a president who is the most ardent supporter of actions antithetical to the Catholic Church who has ever held the office of president. In fact, they advocated that the fox watch over the henhouse while at the same time they attempted to convince the fox that his natural disposition toward eating hens should be curtailed. Given Mr. Obama’s record and his stated positions, how could the bishops have expected anything other than the current impasse? The fact is that they couldn’t have.
I had the occasion to talk with Archbishop John G Vlazny during the January 2009 Roe v. Wade Memorial Rally in Portland, Oregon. I tried to explain then that the president’s healthcare bill was not really about healthcare, but about government control and that the healthcare plan that Mr. Obama was advocating forced the majority of Americans to pay for a program they did not want. This was a direct infringement, I explained, on the personal liberty of the supposedly free people who would be forced to pay for this expensive new program. I tried to explain that there were free-market solutions that would accomplish the stated goals of the president’s healthcare plan much less expensively and more efficiently. Most importantly, I went on to explain that once the government wrested control of our healthcare from us, we would lose religious freedom irrevocably. The Archbishop’s response, and I am paraphrasing, was that Mr. Obama’s control of healthcare would never infringe on religious freedom or force Catholics to act against their consciences. The Archbishop, as recent evidence proves, was wrong and unfortunately, the bishops have simply ventured into an area in which they have no expertise and about which they were poorly advised.
The only way they can recapture the moral high ground is to admit that government control of health care, even if it could work, which it cannot, usurps the freedom, including the freedom of religion, of the majority of Americans and promotes a morality dictated by the government and paid for by the taxpayer. The bishops must understand that as long as they advocate government control and movement toward Socialism they have lost their moral authority as far as religious freedom or any human freedom is concerned.
There is no question that everyone has equal human dignity, regardless of their station in life, their economic situation, their health status or their ability to provide for healthcare for themselves and their families. It is this idea, I believe, that the late Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical “Pacem en Terris” strove to explain and the U.S. bishops seek to affirm when advocating a “right” to healthcare. John Paul II did state that people have the right to healthcare, among other rights, but in so doing did not indicate that it must be provided by the state and he also talked about individual responsibilities. A thorough discussion of the encyclical is beyond the scope of this article but I do not believe that the Pope would advocate the taking over of healthcare by a government hungry for power. I don’t think anyone of goodwill denies that charity is the greatest virtue and that we are all called to be charitable toward our less fortunate citizens. In a great and just society it is of course reasonable for a government to explore ways in which decent healthcare for a greater number of people could be facilitated and I feel Pope John Paul II would advocate this. However this need not result in a government takeover of medical care and it is here that the U.S. Catholic bishops erred. Few would agree with a Robin Hood approach in which individuals take from the “rich” and give to the poor at the point of a gun. Obamacare is nothing less than the Robin Hood approach perpetrated by the government. It subordinates the freedoms envisioned by our founding fathers, obliterating charity in the process, and the bishops should be able to understand this.
Healthcare, like home ownership, is a service that must be provided by some people to others and thus it can never be looked upon as a right that compels the provision of this service under government force. When we begin to look upon services and commodities that taxpayers must provide as rights we find that, unlike the simple rights enshrined in our Constitution, these new rights are unlimited in their scope and indefinable in practice. We have heard that people have the right to own a home. If that is true, to what kind of home do people have a right? Does each person have a right to their own bedroom or may the children share bedrooms? Does this right also refer to the number of bathrooms that must be in each home? Is it permissible that everyone share a bathroom or must there be a bathroom for every two or three persons in the household? If the parents of children in the home do not live together, and the children spend their time with each parent separately, does each parent deserve a home? Once having a home, don’t people need furniture? Surely they at least have a right to beds and a sofa? What will they do when sitting on their sofa? They must have the right to a television. Of course, they likely also have the right to internet services so that they can connect with others and make good use of their free contraception.
The supposed right to own a home and government interference in the lending practices of financial institutions led to the economic collapse of 2008, causing disproportionate suffering of the poorest of Americans. Government manipulation and control of healthcare will lead to the collapse of our healthcare system and more disproportionate suffering of the poor. The 1981 pastoral letter by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops mentioned above noted that people have the “right to adequate healthcare.” The problem of course is that there is no acceptable definition of “adequate” and there will be endless argument and increasingly complex legislation in order to define it. History has shown us that government healthcare leads to higher costs for everyone.
The cost of Obamacare will be prohibitive, the quality will be terrible and our liberty, including the freedom of religion, will be a thing of the past. This could not be what Pope John Paul II had in mind when he wrote the encyclical.
Sadly, we have forgotten the lessons that our founding fathers taught us. Thomas Jefferson said: “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.” The only thing we can be sure of is that Mr. Obama and other elite politicians, including Oregon Governor Kitzhaber, will have the best possible healthcare while the majority of us are herded like sheep through a system designed to destroy our freedom, our dignity and ultimately, our nation. The Catholic bishops, having ventured down a path that was destined to lead to the loss of religious freedom in favor of subjugation, should heed the admonition of another of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, who said: “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” The bishops must now have the fortitude to reverse course, condemn Obamacare in its entirety for the travesty that it is, and work toward healthcare reform that is truly in line with Catholic teaching on human dignity and freedom. There are free market solutions that will provide quality healthcare much more accessible to all Americans, such as the reforms advocated by Doctors 4 Patient Care. The current dilemma faced by the bishops is a direct result of making a deal, metaphorically, with the devil and the only way out is to refuse to play his game.
Dr. Rosenbloom is the president of the Oregon chapter of Doctors 4 Patient Care