Recently, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development released a statement made to the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate stating that “health care is not a privilege but a right and a requirement to protect the life and dignity of each person.” They couldn’t be more wrong.
The Committee that composed the document obviously supports President Obama’s desire for national health care reform (with the caveat that taxpayers should not be forced to pay for abortions). National health care reform is a political issue. People of goodwill can be for it or against it as the recent congressional debates will readily attest. Yet, when the seeming weight of the bishops is attached to an issue affecting the commonweal, the words they use often connote a moral imperative which in the case of health care does not exist. The only right that one human being owes to another is “medical care.” This means care and treatment for an immediate need. For instance, a person has a right to expect that civil society would provide for an emergency appendectomy even if he is without sufficient means to pay for it. Biblical support for medical care can be found in the Golden Rule and the story of the Good Samaritan. On the other hand, while preventive medicine such as an annual check-up or the right to elective surgery may benefit some people no where is it found as binding in the natural law or the Christian tradition.