We are in a critical stage in the health care reform debate and religious people should be weighing in by providing a moral argument in favor of, or against health care reform. Religious leaders should be talking about health care in small groups and in their weekly services in an effort to translate what their sacred texts and inherited traditions say about the issues which confront us in the debate on health care.
From my perspective I cannot think of one religiously based argument against reforming America's health care system. Health care reform is fundamentally about keeping health care costs affordable for those who already have some kind of insurance, and making it available for the millions who do not have it.
Care of our basic well-being is an essential element of religious concern. In my own tradition of Christianity, Jesus was in the practice of healing those who were sick (the roots of the word salvation is connected to healing), and he mandated his disciples to go about the business of healing the sick and providing for the poor. Christians alive today are meant to continue the work of Jesus and be the body of Christ. While we may not have miraculous healing powers ourselves, we do have the ability to make sure that the miraculous healing ability of medicine is available to all who need it.
I honestly hope that someone will correct me about this, but it seems to me that the objections to health care reform always come down to selfishness. People who enjoy good health care are worried that their own care might suffer if it were extended to a wider group, or else they resent that they might have to pay a bit more to allow for health care for the poor. Putting aside the fact that those with money will always be able to buy superior health care, and that insurance companies continue to raise costs on health care annually -- with reform or without it -- the religious objection to these arguments is that they are grounded in making self interest the priority at the expense of the well-being of others. This selfishness is the antithesis of the religious impulse.
Those whom we identify as truly religious are those who live their lives not thinking how they can best arrange the world to serve their own interests, but who instead see the world through the lens of compassion and attempt to live in service to others. Again, speaking for the Christian tradition, it is clear that Jesus is especially concerned with those who were living in poverty, who were outcasts, or who were sick. Jesus never mandated his followers to seek the best they could for themselves, it was always through the lens of the 'least of these.' If we conveniently forget the plight of the millions who live without health care and who face the decision between paying for an operation or keeping a home, then we are not really considering the religious perspective on health care. It becomes a classic case of the powerful protecting their own interests while the weak suffer -- an equation that must be repugnant to the religious sensibility.
The two objections to health care that have taken on a religious flavor are death panels and abortion. On the question of abortion, while I am pro-choice I do respect the pro-life position enough to understand why they want to keep this bill abortion neutral. I agree with that effort and I encourage people of good will on both sides to continue to work together to make sure that this bill is acceptable to those on the pro-life side without being used as a tool to roll back abortion rights.
On the other hand, I have no patience for the death panels fear tactic. It stemmed from the proposal that patients might be given the ability to consult with a doctor about end of life issues. Anyone who hasn't considered what they want to happen when they are at the end of life -- the kind of care they want, and what measures they want taken to be kept alive is not living responsibly in my mind. And if you don't think there are death panels now -- then talk to one of the many people for whom the insurance agencies have denied an operation, or not given coverage to begin with because of an existing conditions! The death panels are in existence right now and they are administered by the insurance companies whose bottom line continues to earn them billions in profits while the poor and the weak suffer.
Health care reform provides a moral test of our country and holds up the mirror to ask what kind of nation we want to be. I cannot think of one religious argument that does not support fundamental health care reform -- can you? If you can, then please comment below, I look forward to reading them. If you agree with me that health care reform demands support of religious communties, then now is the time to mobilize and ensure that our policies reflect our convictions.