CHA Ethicist Describes Health Care Critics As Addicts
The Catholic Health Association, readers will recall, recently insisted there was no “disagreement” between its position on abortion funding and the bishops’ conference. CHA had appeared to endorse the Senate version of the health care bill containing unprecedented federal funding for abortion but was forced to backtrack in response to criticism.
Now an article has appeared, “Ethics—Cultural Addictions Trump the Common Good,” written by Ron Hamel, the senior director of ethics at CHA. Hamel’s thoughts were published in the most recent edition of CHA’s journal, Health Progress (January-February 2010).
Hamel’s title provides both the flavor and the substance of his argument – people who disagree with the present form of health care reform are suffering from a moral deficiency:
The debate about health care reform has not exactly been one of America’s shining moments. What the country has displayed for the entire world to see is that, when all is said and done, we are essentially a people marked by individualism, self-interest, greed and an obsession with choice.
It has long been the habit – dare I say “addiction” – of those on the political left to attribute moral inferiority to those who disagree with them.
What do you do, however, when the majority of the American public takes a different view on health care from a vested interest like CHA (a lobbying organization for Catholic hospitals)? You pull out the language of vice and virtue and, as Hamel does, slap the former on the “politicians, various interest groups, pundits, bloggers, and so many others trying to undermine meaningful reform.”
But being a Catholic ethicist, Hamel doesn’t stop with accusing health dissenters of mere selfishness – they are committing the cardinal sin against the left’s view of Catholic social teaching: they are denying THE COMMON GOOD. Hamel cites with agreement a recent article by Daniel Callahan in Commonweal, asserting a lack of a “common-good tradition” in America, a dominance of individuality, and unwillingness to “sacrifice.” As a result, Callahan summarizes, the idea of rationing health care “is objectionable to most Americans.”
The notion of the common good is the conceptual heart of Catholic social teaching. The Catechism (#1906) states, “[B]y common good is to be understood ‘the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.’ The common good concerns the life of all. It calls for prudence from each, and even more from those who exercise the office of authority.”
Hamel talks as if there is no acceptable “prudence” other than his own, connecting the demand of the common good to this particular health care bill. All the questions that have been raised by the Catholic Medical Association, among others, about its impact on the quality of health care for all, on the doctor-patient relationship, on the development of medical technology and drugs, on the impact of rationing on the elderly, etc., are nothing more than efforts to avoid the moral generosity Hamel exhorts.
Possessing the only true Catholic prudence on health care, Hamel registers surprise that a CHA colleague was met with hostile questions about the “right to health care” from an audience at a meeting sponsored by a state Catholic conference. “And this was a Catholic social justice conference!” Hamel’s explanation of the hostility was to denigrate their understanding of Catholic social teaching while attributing their indifference to the way that “the dominant values of American society [have] eclipsed the values of Catholic social teaching.”
For Hamel, the “dominant values,” that is, our “cultural addictions,” are “American individualism and self-interest.” These addictions point to an issue more “fundamental for American Catholics”:
[W]hat are the “stories,” the interpretations of reality, that we actually live by? The beliefs and values at the heart of Catholicism and Catholic health care serve to shape a particular worldview that should make a difference in how these individuals see, interpret, value, choose, and act.
I couldn’t agree with Hamel more: He should begin with the “story” that everyone who disagrees with him about health care suffers from addictive selfishness, refuses to make sacrifices for others, rejects Catholic social teaching, and is more American than Catholic.
I would add one more story Hamel should examine, that being his story about America itself, which he portrays as being at odds with the Catholic faith in some extraordinary way. Is it easier to be a good Catholic, according to Hamel, in a socialist country? Evidently. If so, how does that square with the stark decline of the Church in post-war socialist Europe and the continued strength of the Church in the United States?
What Hamel does not recognize is that the core of the popular resistance to this health care bill is resistance, not to helping others, but to handing something as personal as our medical care over to government control. Yes, Americans value their freedom as a good thing for human fulfillment, not as “obsession with choice,” as Hamel describes it.
That freedom is not an American “addiction,” by the way; it is the first of the three essential elements of the Catholic conception of the common good:
In particular, the common good resides in the conditions for the exercise of the natural freedoms indispensable for the development of the human vocation, such as ‘the right to act according to a sound norm of conscience and to safeguard . . . privacy, and rightful freedom also in matters of religion.’ (Catholic Catechism #1907)