CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING: HEALTH CARE

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A religious sister is seen comforting a sick woman in 2016 at Snehadam Old Age Home in Gurgaon, India. (CNS photo/courtesy John E. Kozar, CNEWA)

Earlier this month, Bishop Ryan P. Jimenez announced that Social Justice Commission of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa would publish articles that share Catholic social teachings on several issues that are of interest and concern to voters and candidates alike as the November 2018 elections approach. These articles are not meant to direct voters to vote for any particular candidate or platform. Rather, as Bishop Ryan wrote, these articles are intended to help the faithful “carefully discern the issues affecting our community and to use your conscience in examining these issues”. What follows is the third of such articles.

by the Social Justice Commission, Diocese of Chalan Kanoa
and Mount Carmel School’s Introduction to Media Communications students

In Brief

• Jesus, Himself, was a spiritual and a physical healer who tended to the health care of those He encountered.
• Church teachings on health care affirm the life and dignity of every person, from conception to death.
• We are all called to take care of the sick and the marginalized.
• The Church supports adequate and affordable health care for all.

At Length

In His earthly ministry, Jesus was not only a teacher. He was a spiritual and a physical healer, who cured leprosy (Matthew 8: 1—4), gave sight to the blind (Matthew 9: 27—31), and empowered the crippled to walk (Luke 5: 17—26). Illness was an opportunity for Him to demonstrate God’s love, culminating in the ultimate healing of the resurrection. Embodying the healing power of God’s love, Jesus proclaimed, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, though he should die, will come to life” (John 11: 25—26).

But caring for the sick was not only Jesus’s ministry—it is our ministry as well. He reminds us to see His face in the faces of the suffering. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me…for whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25: 35—36, 40).

A sick child greets Pope Francis during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Aug. 3. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

These encounters with Jesus serves as the foundation for the Catholic Church’s social teachings on health care, teachings that insist that health care is a basic right flowing from the sanctity of human life and dignity of the human person. As Pope John XXIII wrote in his encyclical Pacem in Terris, each person “has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood” (no. 11).

At the personal level and the societal level, this teaching challenges each and every one of us to care of the needy, the marginalized, and the sick. This was emphasized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in its March 8, 2017 letter to the U. S. Congress. The USCCB wrote, “Health care is not just another issue for the Church or for a healthy society. It is a fundamental issue of human life and dignity. Health care is a critical component of the Catholic Church’s ministry.”

In this regard, the Church has practiced what it preaches with a long history of work in health care, operating hospitals, providing health care services to the sick and the terminally ill, and even offering affordable health care insurance for the needy. Moreover, since 1981, the USCCB has consistently urged government leaders to provide adequate and affordable health care for all, writing numerous pastoral letters to elected officials and issuing several position statements on various health care issues. The USCCB has asserted that health care policy must protect human life and dignity from conception to natural death, not threaten them, especially for the voiceless and vulnerable.

In particular, the USCCB has offered the following guiding principles for health care policy discussions:

• Health care coverage should be universal and should not be denied to those in need because of their condition, age, where they come from, or when they arrive in a country.
• Health care should be truly affordable, especially for those living in poverty and those living above the poverty level but who are still working hard to make ends meet.
• Access provided in health care policy should be sufficient to maintain and promote good health as well as treat disease and disability.
• Health care policy and funding should not compel the Church or its service providers to pay for the destruction of human life, whether through government funding or mandatory coverage of abortion.

In short, we are all called, as individuals and as a body politic, to affirm the life and dignity of every person. As Pope Francis wrote in his 2017 Message for the World Day of the Sick, “Jesus bestowed upon the Church his healing power…The Church’s mission is a response to Jesus’ gift, for she knows that she must bring to the sick the Lord’s own gaze, full of tenderness and compassion.”

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