Ethicists view health care as basic right, not a luxury commodity - Word&Way

Ethicists view health care as basic right, not a luxury commodity

Human beings are fragile creatures needing health care to flourish and — in many cases — survive, said David Gushee, distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University. And that universal need for health care makes it a human right, he insists.

“Rights are tied to needs,” he said.

Other industrialized nations already provide basic health care, and consider it a human right rather than a commercial commodity, said Terry Rosell, professor of pastoral theology in ethics and ministry praxis at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kan., and program associate for disparities in health and health care at the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, Mo. “They consider us to be barbarians for leaving out millions of our most vulnerable citizens — and non-citizens. They consider us immoral to allow some to grow rich off the sufferings of others.”

Rosell and Gushee — along with Bill Tillman, the T.B. Maston chair of ethics at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary, and Michael Pontious, director of family practice residency for the University of Oklahoma/Garfield Country Medical Society Rural Program and editor of the Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association — agree  Christians have a clear calling to care for the vulnerable, including people without access to affordable health care.


Educating patients and families is an important part of the right to health care, say ethicists. (Photo/Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas)

Most of Jesus’ miracles were health-related, Tillman said. If one adds up the accounts of healing, almost the entire body is included.

If we are to be like Christ, we “should be looking out for the well-being of others,” he said.

Pontious views the social responsibility of Christians differently than many others in the medical profession, he acknowledged. “During a conversation with colleagues … the consensus was that physicians had no social responsibility for the greater good; they rather see this as a business and therefore work under a business ethic,” he said.

He believes there is a problem when the rules of a free market system are applied to health care access. “You end up with the morass that we call American health care — the most expensive for less-than-stellar outcomes.”

Gushee compared a basic health care system to the public school system. With the use of tax dollars, society provides a basic education through high school. Some choose to opt out of the public system and pay for what they feel is a better education — but everyone still pays taxes to fund the schools, he said.

The same could be done with health care, he added. Christians need not call for either a public or a private option, but support both.

Instead of an either/or mentality, allowing both public and private options allows the two to correct the mistakes of the other.

“If we believe the Bible, we should be interested in health care and health care delivery,” Tillman said. The Bible emphasizes justice, which Tillman described as the balance of God. “Those that had were accountable to care for those who did not. It goes right in the face of American capitalism.”

He referenced the Preamble to the United States Constitution, which sets up the nation in order to “establish justice” and “promote the general welfare.”

“If we say that’s what we believe, that’s what we’re about, then those words call us to task,” he said.

But while Christians should support health care options for the vulnerable, they shouldn’t step blindly into any proposal. Christians need to engage the process, Gushee and Tillman agreed.

Questions to ask include:

•  Will this legislation cover every American?

• Will it be affordable — both to individuals and to society as a whole?

• How do we protect basic human values — such as the sanctity of all life — in the process of reform?

• How quickly will a person gain access to the system?

• How individualized will the system be?

• Will people still have the choice to visit their own physician?

“This is an interesting test case in caring for those not as fortunate,” Gushee said. Eighty-five percent of people have health insurance, while only 15 percent do not, he said. “Ruthless logic would be for the 85 percent to say ‘don’t mess with this.’ But that’s sub-Christian thinking. We have to care about the 15 percent.”

He appealed to the biblical call to love one’s neighbor. “The New Testament gives hundreds of ways to answer, ‘Why should I care about my neighbor?’” he said.

He fears, however, that in the midst of a politically polarized nation, many on both sides of the fence are making ideological, not biblical decisions. “We have to do better than that.”

Jennifer Harris lives in St. Louis, Mo., and occasionally writes for the New Voice Media Group.