The Many Moral Questions in Health-care Reform

The Catholic Church in the United States has done a public service during the recent health-care debate by keeping a crucial proposition in play: no reform should reverse the 32-year-old national consensus that keeps the federal government out of the business of funding abortions. Defending that proposition will not get any easier in the weeks ahead, but it must be done.

The defense of the inalienable right-to-life is not the only moral principle involved in the health-care debate, however.  There are several other such principles and social justice concerns at stake. Here are some of the most important:

• The principle of solidarity teaches us to cherish a sense of responsibility across generations.  How is that principle honored in a reform of health care that dramatically reduces the funding of Medicare for senior citizens, as bills in Congress now do?

• The principle of cross-generational solidarity also raises grave questions about the real costs of the plans that have emerged from the House and the Senate—real costs, as distinguished from the numbers being pulled out of hats on Capitol Hill. One experienced Catholic public-policy analyst estimates that the bill brought before the Senate will increase total federal spending by about $4.9 trillion (that’s $4.9 million million) over the next 20 years. There is no way to pay for this, even with spending reductions and tax increases. Does saddling our grandchildren with an Everest of debt satisfy the demands of cross-generational solidarity?

• The principle of subsidiarity teaches us to be wary of concentrating too much power in the national government.  Yet the House bill that (barely) passed in November puts the federal government squarely on the hook for controlling health care costs because it requires Americans to buy government-approved insurance. Voters will rightly turn to their representatives and insist that the government make that insurance affordable. Thus the sea change: the U.S. government will become responsible for containing all health-care costs, which will inevitably involve both rationing and a decline in the quality of care.
Moreover, does anyone seriously propose that a federal government incapable of producing and distributing flu vaccine efficiently is capable of managing a national health-care system well?  Subsidiarity teaches us to be deeply skeptical about affirmative answers to that question.  Common sense suggests that any government, given such power, will never give it up. If we make a mess of this now, we’re stuck; ask the British and the Canadians.

• The principle of the common good teaches us to avoid public policy that destroys jobs; that moral imperative becomes even more urgent under current circumstances. The taxes that proposed health-care reforms will impose on all but the smallest employers who don’t offer health insurance, and the tax surcharge that will be laid on higher income persons who own small businesses, are both likely to discourage hiring and force layoffs. That’s bad public policy at any level of unemployment. It’s unconscionable when the unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent.

• The politicization of medical decisions—which will inevitably follow the kind of health- care reform now being proposed—will put new pressures on the right-to-life principle, as well as on the principles of the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity. Decisions that should be made by patients and doctors will be made by regulators as governmental intrusion trumps moral and medical judgment. How this builds a free and virtuous society, as Catholic social doctrine bids us do, is not clear.

For all its virtues, today’s American medical system does not afford access to needed care for some, so it fails the tests set by Catholic social doctrine. We can meet those tests and fix the system’s gravest problems by working incrementally, testing results as we go: changing the liability laws that distort insurance costs, reforming the insurance industry to mandate portability and coverage of pre-existing conditions, lifting the ban on interstate competition in health insurance, and covering the uninsured by tax credits and small business reforms. That would be health-care reform that satisfies Catholic principles across-the-board.

George Weigel


George Weigel is an American author and political and social activist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Weigel was the Founding President of the James Madison Foundation.

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  • We always talk about “saddling our grandchildren with an Everest of debt” when discussing Federal spending. While we certainly are doing that, I think it’s time we realize we’re saddling ourselves–the Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y–with this debt, and, in the words of the classic Gen X Dire Straits song, “We’re gonna have to pay what’s owed, we’re gonna have to reap from some seed that’s been sowed.”

    It is us, anybody who doesn’t yet have a foot in the grave, that will be facing this bill when it comes due. Major government entitlement programs are going to be bankrupt within a decade or two, and the Chinese are going to come looking for the interest and principle on all the payday loans they’ve been giving us. I’m no economist, but neither was my Grandmother and she had more sense than most in Washington. She knew that to run a household, income had to be greater than outgo with a little left for a rainy day. There’s simply no other way to make an economy work.

  • DOK
  • goral

    Catholic social doctrine has also been formed by the high percentage of so called Christian communists that populate the Church Universal. We are well aware that they share some of the political goals of Marxists, for example replacing capitalism with christian socialism. This opens the door for full blown communism at a later point in the future. Christian communists share the conclusions but not the underlying premises of Marxists.

    This needs to be kept in mind as the healthcare debate continues to go forward despite all the provisions that make it unacceptable in a free, wealthy, and capitalist society. What has happened is that the Gramsci style communists have infiltrated the church even into the hierarchy.

    Antonio Gramsci, was one the the most influential Italian Communist thinkers of the twentieth century. He is considered by many to be the father of Western Marxism. His entirely palatable, pseudo-christian, and “Judas” version of social doctrine is what is present in many parts of Catholic social teaching. It goes by many names – Liberation Theology, concern for the environment, right to affordable healthcare, catholics for pro-choice and so many other code terms that hide under the umbrella of legitimate Catholic social thinking.

    Their aim is always the same, the bastardization and betrayal of the true meaning and purpose of Catholic subsidiarity, love of neighbor and opposition to all movements that put aside the overarching spiritual purpose behind all that we do to satisfy our physical and temporal needs.

  • elkabrikir

    Okay. Here’s the deal:

    Nobody is listening to you Mr Weigel, Prariehaw, goral, DOK and the rest of you who have bleeding craniums from pounding your head against the marble facade of the Capital. Got it.

    My own congressman Rep John Spratt (D, SC) said at his town hall meeting that “He was in congress to vote his conscience”, not the will of his constituents. He was very clear that he would support a form of Obamacare despite his constituent’s wild opposition to it. End of discussion. BANG! BANG! and boy does my head hurt after that pounding……

    Goral, I wish I could ascribe the motives of congressmen to even the faulty ideal of Marxism. However, none of them are guided by any principle other than power and greed. That’s it. (Of course, Marixism is also about ME controlling the stupid you that you are, so perhaps you’re right, after all.)

    The corruption in DC has turned “Joe Public” into a eunuch. We are a side show to be paraded around the Mall and mocked. In fact, because our illustrious leaders castrated us with their “hope, change, transparency’ and the pork barrel bribery of 2000 page bills, our antics serve only to reaffirm their complete power over our bodies and our wallets.

    Fortunately we still have our souls. Except, of course, the bishops’ conference has tried to sell them to the Marxists for 40 years, too. So, guard your treasure carefully, discerning with all Wisdom what the Deposit of the Faith actually teaches about social justice and its implementation. Our faith is about more than a post card campaign. (just giving you a preview of the bishops self-serving plan to inundant the US with illegal immigrants….which, in my opinion is a sin against justice vis-a-vis the illegal immigrants and legal residents of all ilks……..but, bishops will gain a power base, and money. Also, they won’t have to focus on the millions of Catholics they have lost since Vatican II.)

    Thanks CE for running Mr Weigel’s work.

    The End.

  • Warren Jewell

    Elkabrikir, so cynical . . .

    Too much truth there, but we must retain our skeptical if idealistic Christian perspective even before looking to ‘get out of Dodge’, sanctity intact, living or dead. And, by ‘idealistic’, I do NOT mean our ‘ideological’, factional, sectarian, etc., breeds of semi-rigid dis-unities. To call these ‘pigeonholes’ too uncomfortably closely images our own smallness to be accommodated within their smallness, eh?

    It is not really we, but God Who surrounds us with weak, sinful humans. So many are still out there to capture for Christ. Even our Lady of Fatima reflects not some Rosary prayer TO her, but FOR her to use to drag reluctant sheep to the feet of our Shepherd for real peace (truth, joy, salvation, etc.)

    My archdiocese, Chicago, in company with neighboring dioceses of Rockford and Joliet is embarking on starting with getting the lapsed back into parish worship and activities. They’re going to stick stuff on door knobs, most of it in reference to the local parish. I wish them well, but they aren’t even going half way. This should not be door-knob pamphleteering, but human-to-human invitation. Evangelization (and catechesis) is about the Word, but Christ did not send His apostles out with second-hand information to deliver off-handedly, but face-to-face invitations to go listen to Him. We need to go into Dodge, take our chances as it were, and put on a smile as full of His love as we can manage, and hand an invitation to find Christ in His Mass, His Sacraments and in His own ever-loving Church. That’s why He gives us the Church, and and gives us us.

    Is that so radical, or does it just seem that way for not doing, not having been trained to do it, etc.? Ahh – but, the need is radical, and we must be as radical as Christianity has ever been.

  • noelfitz


    I see you wrote “Catholic social doctrine has also been formed by the high percentage of so called Christian communists that populate the Church Universal.”

    Does this mean that you reject Catholic social doctrine or that you agree with “so called Christian communists that populate the Church Universal”?

    I know CE is not responsible for the views expressed here, and I like to see different views expressed, but would CE, or many of its participants, agree with your views on the origins of Catholic social doctrine?

    Leo XIII wrote “Rerum Novarum” at the end of the 19th century, before many communist ideas had been formulated.

    Would anyone like to participate in the forum “Faith and Life” where detailed discussions can occur?

  • goral

    There has to be somebody listening. We are warned that every idle word uttered by us will not escape accounting. By the same logical extension every truthful and productive word will also be noticed. And so we go through this exercise of not grasping at straws but rather straight razors, where there is a real bloody chance.

    Catholic thinkers tell us that every element in Christ’s passion had a particular association with our suffering. Perhaps the Crown of Thorns was borne for the episodes in our lives when we beat our craniums against the wrought iron gates of lies, deception and betrayal.

    Henry VIII also made his appeal to conscience. It works for the time needed and allows the politicians to prosper.

    Our parish priest made a public confession in last Sunday’s sermon about doing the right thing. He admitted to paying a bribe at the hospital while tending to his dying mother. The hospital was in Poland where socialist healthcare is still in place despite the ousting of the CCCP or better known as USSR. Yes, that will soon stand for United States Socialist Republic.

    Back to the point of the dying mother; The son priest said he had to pay it so that the hospital would treat his mother with dignity in her last days and hours.
    He added that if he didn’t do that his conscience would be bothering him to this day that he neglected her in his love.

    As Mr. Weigel well knows from his travels there, we are talking about a Catholic society whose conscience has been well formed and honed by Church teaching. A society which put its national life on the line to fight for human dignity.

    How in heaven’s name do we suppose that our society and our gov’t are better equipped to handle the task of healthcare as a public provision?

    Heavenly scribe, did you get this?

  • elkabrikir

    Mr Jewell,

    yes, God does surround us with sinful people. After all my husband and kids must live with me. And, too, we are called to conversion even as we evangelize others, which is why I teach the faith to 8th graders at church, along with my catechizing my own brood. This is what I teach: Live the truth with love and in love and through Love.

    Regarding the “door-to-door” campaign in your diocese, Regnum Christi members invite all Catholics to join them in a weeklong mission campaign during Holy Week. We actualy speak to people and lovingly invite them to mass and the sacraments. We are a sacrament for them, in a way.

    Cynical? Just the truth. That’s why I gave the detail of my Representative’s comment. I didn’t even mention how people such as myself, that is someone who exercises her Constitutional right to assemble and petition the government, is called a “tea bagger”, by elected officials, no less. (please DON’T google that vile term…….I wish I hadn’t let somebody google it for me either…I couldn’t bear to read the indecency myself.)

    Perhaps I should have just called them, Congressmen and many bishops both past and present, “White-washed sepulchres”.

    I can say, I feel an immense sadness for those Americans who don’t have an abiding faith during this corrupt and perverted age of decline. For, if I didn’t cling to Christ, through daily prayer and scripture reading, and frequent reception of the sacraments, I’d be something worse than cynical.

    Blessings to all. I’m off to live in the real world of baking bread for each of my children’s teachers (about 20 loaves……..where are miracles when you need them?)

  • elkabrikir

    Thanks, goral. Vivid imagery, begets vivid imagery.

    I can hardly wait until the “kings” utter, “Let them eat cake!”……then, we’ll have a bloody mess, for sure.

    I have given some more thought to Mr Jewell while knieeding chocolate chip bread. Joy! (not the chocolate variety) But abiding Joy. I won’t let satan snatch it from me! The Father who hears my every murmer knows quite well which knives the enemy has unsheathed to extricate my heart, leaving behind only a soul-less cadaver. The “kings” are testing me and preparing me to stand before the King of Kings. Thanks for reminding me what is at stake in the battle among the principalities. I’m ready….

    “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

    “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.

    “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints….”

    Ephesians 6:10-18

  • Mary Kochan

    Noel, our dear Goral would have better phrased it by saying “the APPLICATION OF Catholic social doctrine has also been formed by the high percentage of so called Christian communists that populate the Church Universal.” Stated that way it could not be more true — or what do you think all the papal warning and denouncements and even ex-communications over Liberation Theology have been about? They have been about communists and communist ideas infiltrating the Church.

  • noelfitz

    many thanks for your explanation of Goral’s thinking.

    it is great to hear from you here. You are always sound and solid in the faith. You are missed in the forum “Faith and Life”.

    I admire your enthiusiasl for evangelization. I think all of us in these difficult times should try to evangelize. St Francis reminded us to “Preach the gospel; use words if necessary”. There are very many ways to evangelize/preach.

    I think all of us here are on the same side. We are loyal Catholics, faithful to the magisterium, loyal to the Church and its ministers. Our apparent differences only enliven our discussions.

    May I again invite participation in the forum “Faith and Life”, those of us who contribute there enjoy the friendly, lively discussions we have.

    Let us all pray for each other.

  • goral

    Noelfitz, what I should have said was the application of Catholic social doctrine has also been formed by the high percentage of so called Christian communists that populate the Church Universal.

    What? Mary said that already? look at that!

    I’m still learning from our even-handed and just-minded Editor to be more charitable to the hierarchy that God has put before us.

  • goral

    “I know CE is not responsible for the views expressed here, and I like to see different views expressed, but would CE, or many of its participants, agree with your views on the origins of Catholic social doctrine?”

    Hard to say, Noelfitz, we all have different experiences which shape our view of the world.
    My background in a short paragraph – my grandfather and my father both dealt with and opposed real, red Communists all their lives. I know what I know because of Tradition, because of them. I myself lost two front teeth (literally)as a child to a socialist healthcare system. I’m not kidding!
    My father’s correction to me on several occasions was this: “this is what they say and this is what they’ll do” I get it!

    As for Catholic social teaching predating the red do-gooders, yes, it’s true.
    “Feed my sheep….” and “Render unto Caesar…” goes way back. It must be true because they said He spoke as one with authority. The love and care for our neighbor is ours to do and collectively it’s the Church’s responsibility. We’ve always known that. Lately our bishops are closing Catholic institutions and looking to gov’t for salvation.

    Not all of them, one Capuchin Franciscan from Denver is advising us of the proper role of our Church in society. Render Unto Caesar by Archbishop Chaput is a present that I’m still reading. A dear Catholic friend gave it to me. I will follow the advice of this prolific reader and complete the book, how? “one sentence at a time.”

    I also wouldn’t mind getting some of the scraps of the 20 loaves of bread being baked right now which will be multiplied to two thousand. God does a lot even with our little effort. I don’t want bread baked by the dept. of agriculture, there’s no love in it.

  • Goral, I agree with you about Catholic social doctrine. My own take is that it is to be implemented by believers working in communion with the Body of Christ, not bureaucrats working for the Leviathan Caesar. And we should be encouraging Leviathan Caesar to get out of our way and let us keep our own money so we can use it to implement Catholic social doctrine, rather than asking Leviathan Caesar to pick public pockets to pay us to do so. As Papa Ben has said, we can act out of love; a bureaucracy cannot.

  • noelfitz


    many thanks for your reply to me.

    My experience differs from yours.

    I see you wrote “I’m still learning from our even-handed and just-minded Editor to be more charitable to the hierarchy that God has put before us.”

    I agree with you that Mary is even-handed and just-minded. She allows me to express views which differ from many here. However I hope I have never expressed an opinion that differs from Church teaching.

    Perhaps it is worth considering Rom 13:1-7:

    Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God… 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.