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
"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
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.
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
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,
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.