Speaker: “Vulnerables” criteria to judge health care reform

Photo Caption: Pictured at the annual Diocesan Health Care Day on Nov. 3 are, from left, Msgr. Mark Merdian, Robert Gilligan, and Patrick Cacchione.

By: By Jennifer Willems

Health care reform that does not respond to the needs of the most vulnerable members of society presents a challenge that people of faith must be ready to take up, according to one of the keynote speakers at the annual Diocesan Health Care Day.

“Clearly the health care reform that is being proposed fails to care for the unborn population and may even legitimate federal funding for abortion. In this regard it is a total failure and cannot be supported and should be opposed strongly,” said Father J. Daniel Mindling, OFM Cap., professor of moral theology at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Pro-Life Activities Committee.

“If put into place it should be resisted even to the point of civil disobedience were Catholic hospitals required to provide so-called abortion services,” he emphasized. “We should be getting ready to go to jail,

RESPONDING to a question about health care reform and rationing, Father Mindling also included those who are handicapped “either by debilitating condition or by advanced age or disease that makes them unproductive in any capitalist understanding of productivity.”

Calling the “vulnerables” the Lord’s “special people,” he said health care should be judged by how well their needs are met.

“It is the criteria against which we should judge the effectiveness of health care reform,” Father Mindling told the 145 physicians, nurses, and pastoral care workers who attended the Nov. 3 conference at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria. Listening in were people at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford and OSF St. Francis Hospital in Escanaba, Mich.

In greeting them all, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, said that while difficult days may be ahead, the moral dilemmas they face must be addressed.

“If we serve Christ in the sick, we must serve him carefully. We must serve him guided by the Holy Spirit and the tradition of the church and not by the business world or government,” the bishop said.

“I want you to know I will be praying for all of you because you are the mind, the heart and the healing hands of our church,” he said.

THE CALL to action sounded by Father Mindling and Bishop Jenky was echoed by Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, who said now is the time for Catholics to contact their legislators.
“From the Catholic perspective I hope we are spot on in our timing. My concern is that we are a little late,” he said, noting that the U.S. House of Representatives is poised to take action on its version of health care reform soon. “I think every vote is going to matter here.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs 218 votes to get legislation to the House floor, said Gilligan.

He noted that Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, who is considered to be a pro-life Democrat, has gathered 20 to 30 other pro-life Democrats to oppose the legislation until abortion funding is removed from the bill. Gilligan said one source has indicated that it will take 39 Democrats to “stay home and not vote” to prevent it from moving forward.

If the “public option” is included, that would bring more heat to the legislation and could delay action.

“From the Catholic bishops’ perspective this is a really interesting time. We really want health care reform to pass,” Gilligan said. “But abortion isn’t health care. We have to watch very prudently what we advocate for.”

In addition, the rights of conscience for health care providers must be honored, he said.

THE BISHOPS are also insistent that health care be accessible to anyone who has the potential to be insured and affordable not only for those who will be receiving that care, but for those who will be providing and paying for it, he told conference participants.

Legal immigrants must be included in health care reform too, according to the bishops. Current law stipulates that they must be residents of the United States for five years before they are eligible for coverage, Gilligan said, explaining that the bar was considered a deterrent for people who were simply seeking benefits.

“The bishops speak from the point of principle, which is that’s not fair, it’s not right,” he said. “If you’re here and you are a participating American, you are legal, you have a right to be covered like any other citizen.”

IN HIS discussion on “The Theological Basis of Catholic Health Care and Its Application to End of Life Care and Decisions,” Father Mindling also spoke of inclusion, telling conference participants, “Christ didn’t die for some. Christ died for everyone.”

“By his taking on human flesh, all human flesh is sacred,” he said. “Our solidarity with each other is because of our solidarity in Christ.”

Father Mindling, who also serves on the Maryland Governor’s Council on Quality Care at the End of Life and is a consultant to the Maryland Catholic Conference and the Pennsylvania Catholic Bishops’ Committee of Moral Theologians, reminded them that when they touch the sick and the dying they are touching the body of Christ.

For that reason, the love of Christ must be the animating principle of Catholic health care, Father Mindling said, adding that the first thing Jesus did wherever he went was to heal the sick. He commanded his disciples to do the same.

“It’s one of the last things we’ll be judged on,” Father Mindling said, quoting Matthew 25, “For I was ill and you comforted me.”

“You were my companion and consolation,” Father Mindling said. “On that basis we will be granted paradise.”

IN DOCUMENT after document, the church proclaims the need to care for each human life with dignity and to embrace those who are suffering in a way that brings them the light of hope — and that includes resurrection hope, according to Father Mindling.

When physicians are making decisions about care at the end of life with patients, he emphasized the need to treat each person as an individual and not as a set of protocols that are generally carried out for a given condition. Medically assisted nutrition and hydration may not be deemed advisable for someone who will receive no benefit from it, for example, but may be used as a way of giving comfort to those who are dying and their caregivers and demonstrating their solidarity with one another, he said.

Gilligan told conference participants that people outside the Catholic Church may not understand these kinds of things or the role faith plays in their work.

“One of the trends in sustaining health care in the future is our ability to evangelize, to educate legislators, staff and people we encounter in the public square,” he said. “I think it’s more important now than ever.”

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