Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Is Universal Healthcare "Catholic"?

Someone recently asked the question whether universal healthcare is consistent with Catholic social teaching. At first glance, this seems like a no-brainer. Caring for the sick is one of what Catholics call "the corporal works of mercy." This has nothing to do with military rank, but means that things like clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and visiting prisoners are a way of taking care of people's material, that is, "corporal" needs.  They are considered meritorious not just by Catholics, but by all religions that we every heard of.

Is it, however, the proper role of government to provide for healthcare? In a larger sense, is the government the source of all good as many people, including many Catholics, seem to believe? This is a more difficult question, especially when we consider (for example) the social doctrine of Pope Leo XIII. As he said,

"Nature accordingly must have given to man a source that is stable and remaining always with him, from which he might look to draw continual supplies. And this stable condition of things he finds solely in the earth and its fruits. There is no need to bring in the State. Man precedes the State, and possesses, prior to the formation of any State, the right of providing for the substance of his body." (Rerum Novarum, § 7.)

We should understand "substance of his body" as including healthcare. Does this preclude State assistance when there is no other recourse? No —

"It is a duty, not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity — a duty not enforced by human law." (Ibid., § 22.)

As far as Leo XIII (and all subsequent popes) was concerned, then, there must be available some means by which people can take care of themselves without having to rely on the government. That means is private property in capital. Thus,

"We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners." (Ibid., § 46.)

CESJ has been working on a proposal that would empower people to become owners of capital without redistributing what already belongs to others, in the process vesting them with the economic power necessary to provide for "common domestic needs adequately," including education and healthcare. We propose it in part as a counter to what we're starting to call "Welfare Blackmail," the belief that you must have State assistance or nothing, and must vote in the politicians who promise you the best benefits, regardless of the cost, whether in money or other people's lives.

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