01-04-2010 - Traces, n. 4

inside america

Not only a
Political Matter

The charged climate around health care reform has not eased with the bill passed. Stepping back to re-evaluate, the Church’s social doctrine comes to bear on our judgments on political workings, putting questions and policies into the context of the true meaning of “the greater good.”

President Barack Obama’s signing of the health care reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives has, of course, not ended the debate about the subject. One wonders whether anything new can be said about the merits and demerits of the bill. Perhaps at this point it would be useful to review the teaching of the Church about society’s responsibility to provide opportunities for adequate health care for its citizens as the basis for judgments about the different issues raised by proposed legislation.

The “right” of access to adequate health care is mentioned twice in the index of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, issued by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The first time, in Paragraph #182, the focus is on the right to health care in the area of “the universal destination of goods and the preferential option for the poor.” This “principle” is itself treated within the teaching about the right to private property (cf. Par. #176). The right to private property is defended as “one of the conditions for civil liberty,” and a “guarantee of a correct social order.” The next paragraph, however, emphasizes that the right to private property is not absolute. Rather, it is “subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are made for everyone.” This is the “principle of the universal destination of goods.” It is offered as an “affirmation of God’s full and perennial lordship over every reality and of the requirement that the goods of creation remain ever destined to the development of the whole person and all of humanity.” The right to private property must be “regulated” by this principle. In effect, the right to private property is “meant to be an instrument for respecting the principle of the universal destination of goods; in the final analysis, therefore, it is not an end, but a means.”
Returning to Paragraph 182, the “preferential option for the poor” is defined as a “special form of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness. It affects the life of each Christian inasmuch as he or she seeks to imitate the life of Christ, but it applies equally to our social responsibilities and hence to our manner of living and to the logical decisions to be made concerning the ownership and use of goods.” 
It is in this context that the Compendium declares that “this love or preference for the poor, and the decisions that it inspires in us, cannot but embrace the immense multitude of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without health care, and above all, those without hope for a better future.” 
The second reference to health care occurs in Paragraph #447 of the Compendium. This paragraph deals with the current global dimension of the problems of underdevelopment and poverty. Among the causes of this unbearable situation, the Compendium maintains, are the impossibility of participating in the international market, illiteracy, lack of food security, the absence of structures and services, inadequate methods for guaranteeing basic health care, the lack of safe drinking water and sanitation, corruption, and instability of institutions and of political life itself. 

For the Church, therefore, the “right to adequate health care” and the government’s role in guaranteeing this right, all following the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, is not a matter of political ideologies, not even of the demands of justice that must always be respected. It is above all a matter of charity as we understand it through faith in Christ. This is the ultimate basis for the social doctrine of the Church, and thus for our judgments concerning all legislative programs intending to respond to this right.