The following statement is from the Catholic Public Policy Commission of Tennessee
as approved by the three Bishops of TN
FIVE PRINCIPLES OF SOCIAL JUSTICE THAT APPLY TO HEALTH CARE
A Catholic perspective on health care
Is it possible to identify fundamental principles - moral and theological-that delineate a Catholic perspective on health care as a matter of social justice? If we look at the Ethical and Religious Directives (fifth edition, 2009) promulgated by the US Catholic Bishops, we find a valuable description of core principles that provides a very helpful framework to connect health care, social justice and the Catholic tradition
The Introduction to Part One of the Directives focuses on the social responsibility of Catholic Health Care Services. It sets forth five normative principles, which apply directly to Catholic health care institutions but in a broader sense also highlight ethical imperatives that pertain to all health care. These principles describe a large compass of care consistent with prevailing religions perspectives in the United States.
To adapt these specific Catholic principles to a larger landscape, we can affirm that health care should be "rooted in a commitment to promote and defend human dignity." This translates practically into a respect for "every human life from the moment of conception until natural death." At issue is not only the right to life but the right to health care that supports and sustains human life, especially where life is most vulnerable and most challenged by patterns of poverty.
Second, the Judeo-Christian tradition recognizes a biblical mandate to care for the poor. The Directives draw our attention to papal and conciliar documents which underscore concern for "the health care needs of the poor, the uninsured and the underinsured". Sometimes described as a "preferential option for the poor," this priority of paying attention to the practical health care needs of the poor is a call to provide a safety net for those most at risk. It is also a marker of how seriously we attend to the needs of our neighbor, how seriously we esteem our own humanity. Our discussion of Medicaid and Tennessee state policy can greatly benefit from an ecumenical context that attaches high priority to identifying and addressing the needs of the most disadvantaged of our neighbors (Cf. Mt 25: 31-46). There is nothing to be gained by ignoring or obscuring barriers limiting access to health care; the promise lies in identifying factors which curtail access to health care and address them, quickly and responsibly. At this time of unprecedented crisis and opportunity, we must fashion a mandate of common sense and common decency to correct limits on available health care as readily as we can.
Third, health care must be seen against the background of the common good. Understood as the sum total of conditions which, taken together, allow individuals and societies to flourish in the pursuit of their distinctive needs and vocations, the common good embraces the related concepts of solidarity and subsidiarity. Solidarity means that all citizens have a shared stake in the common good and in committing themselves to a good that transcends narrow or partisan interests; all have an interest in committing themselves to the health care needs of the larger society. A preoccupation with self-interest eclipses the moral imperative of striving for a common good. The principle of solidarity also entails the principle of subsidiarity. This means a presumption that those closest to a problem can be considered to have the best grasp of it. The experience of the poor and those searching for health care carries a value for all seeking solutions. The experience of those who are seeking but have not yet obtained citizenship must be particularly supported and valued. We owe to those seeking citizenship a presumption of good faith.
Fourth, adequate and compassionate health care requires the responsible stewardship of available, often scarce resources. This means at a minimum an informed conversation between the public and private sectors where the wise judgment of legislators can guide and support the decisive choices of the Governor to make choices that will serve the interest of as many as possible. The need to make tough decisions that balance revenues with costs must be done consistent with a moral compass of authentic compassion for citizens whose conditions place them on the margin of life-threatening poverty. Responsible stewardship of health care resources, empowered by the lens of subsidiarity, must not come at the expense of the mentally ill, the chronically or terminally ill, the unborn or the undocumented. Collaboration between hospitals, health systems, community agencies and civic leadership is essential to secure a stewardship of resources in an era of unprecedented uncertainty.
Fifth, health care in the pluralistic society, where sharp divergences of moral reasoning can often occur, must safeguard a profound respect for the rights of individual conscience. Choices, which operate to jeopardize innocent human life or restrict access to vital medical resources, can be understood to thwart the conscience of the community.