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Health Care:  The Faith Perspective

We've all heard the economic and medical arguments for or against health care reform. Advocates argue that in the US we spend more of our resources on health care than any other nation, by far, yet outcomes do not reflect that.  Detractors suggest that we already have "universal" health care: anyone who is seriously ill can check themselves in at an emergency room.  Of course, they can, but it's far more sensible to offer preventative care to everyone, thus making costly visits to the emergency room far less likely.  From both an economic and medical perspective, preventing serious illness is a far better way to go. It seems obvious to me that our current system, with its soaring costs and its failure to cover tens and millions of people in this, the richest nation on earth, does not meet either the most basic economic or medical measures of adequacy. True enough, if you are fortunately enough to be able to afford a gold plated plan, have a job that provides one of those, and don't enter the work force with a pre-existing condition that disqualifies you from coverage, you may be perfectly happy with the level of care you are receiving. Heaven forbid, of course, that your doctor recommends a treatment that your HMO determines is either too costly or medically "unnecessary."  In that case, you may wake up to a sobering realization: "Coverage Denied!"  

Still, for me, as a person of faith, the most compelling arguments for serious health care reform are the moral and religious ones. The health and welfare of any people is a responsibility of the entire community. Frankly, I have a good insurance policy, so if my own needs were all that I needed to consider, then I might very well count myself among the opponents of any change in a status quo. That said, the rising cost of that insurance policy and the current recession have resulted in a decision by the company that provides it, to switch to a cheaper plan that will not provide as many benefits. My out of pocket expenses will rise and the amount of coverage will fall. Millions of Americans are facing exactly this situation. And my own faith requires that I look beyond by own needs and circumstances to the needs of others. 

"The fear of the Lord is the crown of wisdom, making peace and perfect health to flourish." (Ecclesiasticus 1.18) By that measure, faith and health are directly related, with the character of any people being directly reflected in the degree to which there is a mutual concern about the happiness and health of all. It is not coincidental that Jesus is referred to as the "Great Physician;" nor is it strange that throughout history, religious groups of all kinds have stepped forward to found hospitals as well as networks of clinics, senior care centers, and places of refuge where people can go for emergency assistance following natural disasters. Likewise, these same religious groups and denominations have been and still are supportive of government sponsored health care services. The overwhelming majority of religious groups in the United States are on record in support of health care reform, not because of political or ideological arguments, but simply because the case for reform is morally compelling. 

Here, for example, is a statement sent to members of Congress by the Stated Clerk on my own denomination. 

Likewise, "A Faith-Inspired Vision of Health Care" is an excellent document developed by the largest interfaith coalition of national, state and local organizations and individuals working together on health care reform. I have included the full text of this document here in the pdf format. Enjoy!

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Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).  
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here.
God and Science (Hypertext Edition, 2005).
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion:
Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).

Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.
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