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Kerry WeberNovember 18, 2010

Read the story, from CNS's Sarah Delaney:

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI and other church leaders said it was the moral responsibility of nations to guarantee access to health care for all of their citizens, regardless of social and economic status or their ability to pay.

Access to adequate medical attention, the pope said in a written message Nov. 18, was one of the "inalienable rights" of man.

The pope's message was read by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, to participants at the 25th International Conference of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry at the Vatican Nov. 18-19.

The theme of this year's meeting was "Caritas in Veritate - toward an equitable and human health care."

The pope lamented the great inequalities in health care around the globe. While people in many parts of the world aren't able to receive essential medications or even the most basic care, in industrialized countries there is a risk of "pharmacological, medical and surgical consumerism" that leads to "a cult of the body," the pope said.

"The care of man, his transcendent dignity and his inalienable rights" are issues that should concern Christians, the pope said.

Because an individual's health is a "precious asset" to society as well as to himself, governments and other agencies should seek to protect it by "dedicating the equipment, resources and energy so that the greatest number of people can have access."

"Justice in health care should be a priority of governments and international institutions," he said, cautioning that protecting human health does not include euthanasia or promoting artificial reproductive techniques that include the destruction of embryos.

Care for human life from conception to its natural end must be a guiding light in determining health care policy, the pope said.

In his own written statement, Cardinal Bertone had strong words in support of the need for governments to take care of all citizens, especially children, the elderly, the poor and immigrants.

"Justice requires guaranteed universal access to health care," he said, adding that the provision of minimal levels of medical attention to all is "commonly accepted as a fundamental human right."

Governments are obligated, therefore, to adopt the proper legislative, administrative and financial measures to provide such care along with other basic conditions that promote good health, such as food security, water and housing, the cardinal said.

Private health insurance companies, he said, should conform to human rights legislation and see to it that "privatization not become a threat to the accessibility, availability and quality of health care goods and services."

Cardinal Bertone recommended that government leaders in poor countries use their limited resources wisely and for the good of their citizens.

The governments of richer nations with good health care available should practice more solidarity with their own disadvantaged citizens and help developing countries promote health care while trying to avoid a "paternalistic or humiliating" way of assisting, the cardinal said.

Cardinal Bertone warned of the "war of interests" between pharmaceutical companies and developing nations who have little access to medicines because they can't pay for them. He said that those manufacturers should not be driven by "profit as the only objective" in the creation and distribution of medicines.

Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, said in opening remarks that to have good health "is a natural right" recognized by international institutions.

Despite such recognition, he said, great imbalances persist and developing nations find themselves with inadequate structures and without the ability to provide basic medicines to their people. Wealthier countries, on the other hand, have a "technical" approach to the sick, which ignores "the sick person in his entirety and dignity," Archbishop Zimowski said. 

The council, created by Pope John Paul II 25 years ago, will continue the church's mission to serve the sick and promote health for all, the archbishop said.

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Devon Zenu
12 years 4 months ago
Joe Kash,

The recent push to expand health coverage in this country is not just about "access to 100,000 dollar cancer drugs and titanium hip replacements." We are talking about 49 million people in this country without health insurance, the majority of whom will not be receiving basic preventive care. No, an ER won't turn you away if you show up for treatment and can't pay. But medicine is not just about attending to people once they are sick. A lot of medicine (and the most cost effective kind of medicine) is doing basic preventive care: physicals, screenings, exams, etc. Many people forgo these things now because they can't afford them.  We shouldn't wait to develop illnesses to attend to them. And we shouldn't force people to go without treatment for lesser conditions until they turn into major conditions that do put them in the ER. This is unjust and inhumane towards them, and it is incredibly expensive for the rest of us. It drives up the cost of care and overcrowds ER's. 
Stanley Kopacz
12 years 4 months ago
We as a species are in an ongoing war with bacteria, protozoans, viruses and environmentally generated diseases.  Wars require planning and solidarity.  It should be us against disease, not us against disease and the profiteering insurance providers.   When wealthy people start dying from drug resistant diseases bred in the sick and vulnerable part of the populace, maybe a little enlightened self-interest light bulb will go off.  With respect to disease and entropy, we're all in this together, whether we think so or not, or whether we like it or not.

With Vince and David, I agree that it's not about high end treatments, but about basic care not provided to millions.
12 years 4 months ago
They "theory" that Mr. Kopacz has peddled on this and other posts this am to the effect that the big bad insurance corporations (and business in general by extrapolation) is to blame for everything is very nice and neat, but like most encompassing theories, it fails to capture some essential realities.

First of all, I would like him to provide evidence for his claim that 30% of all health care dollars go to denying coverage & paying CEO salaries.  Even assuming this to be somewhat accurate, what percentage of dollars also goes to paying medical malpractice claims and to complying with the Byzantine regulations imposed on the system.

Secondly, the desire to push America into a Eueopean-style welfare state should be as dead as a duck in the water given this past election and the fact that Americans on a whole would revolt en masse to the undeniably high tax rates that would be imposed in order to get us there (curious as to why NOW even the Dems are talking about how long the extension of the Bush tax cuts will be????  You've LOST that argument, too).  Even assuming, again, that Americans have the political and economic desire for such a system, the current system would have to be so thoroughly overhauled to avoid the economic meltdown looming on the horizon given the current rates of federal spending. 

Finally, whatever fault/blame is assigned to insurance providers, it should obvious to the brain dead that they are an essential part of the health care delivery system today and must continue to do so (why else do you think Pres. Obama first sought to buy them off in the negotiations?).  If for no other reason, much of their "profit" is re-invested into research & development, and most health economists agree that American innovation in health care far outstrips other countires.  So any harm done to the R&D dollars is done at our peril.

I am happy to see Paul Ryan & Alice Rivlin cooerpating on a large overhaul to Medicare - and to see Scott BRown & ROn Wyden working on a bill to repair the health care bill.  Unfortunately the liberal political bloggers on America seem to go out of their way to make ANY acknowledgment of the existence of Paul Ryan or his out of the box thinking regarding health care, and the federal budget generally.  Curious to me since he is, after all, a Catholic!
Stanley Kopacz
12 years 4 months ago
As usual, I have to prove everything and Messrs. Landry and Cosgrove have to prove nothing. I'm sure it varies in the US, but the 5% figure in Switzerland is public.  Beat that with a profit making institution.

I've never let what the majority thinks influence me one way or the other.  I'll do my own thinking, thank you.  The insurance companies are just middlemen and like any middlemen, can ultimately be dispensed with or minimized.  Their job is to maximize profit while minimizing expenses (benefits to us) so which way will that go.  But then, being a brain dead zombie with an BS in physics and an MS in optical engineering , I'll defer to the thinking part of the population.

THere are great advances in medical technology in this country.  But what good is that if people can't get it.  I'd like to know how much public versus private funding goes into medical research and how much gets to the people who paid taxes for it.
12 years 4 months ago
David Tenny,

Virtual Colonoscopy with CT scan has been proven to be as effective as standard colonoscopy yet Medicare has not approved the procedure.  You would not need a colon prep for your exam.  More people would get this preventative care.  Why has Medicare not covered this???

My opinion is that the Government knows that more people will get their colon cancer screening and this will cost much more money than the poor compliance with standard colonoscopy.

I am not so naive to think that government control of any industry will lead to rational decisions that are in the best interest of We The People.  In a free market there would be incentive and competition to come up with cheaper and more accessible alternatives.  In a government run system the incentive is to get your expensive procedure approved by the government.  It helps to wine & dine them and to contribute to their campaign.  In a free market, physicians would have to compete on equal terms with nurses and techs.  There would be no limitation to medical student numbers (the AMA and other medical groups have been very successful special interest groups).

But then I could be wrong.  Health could be the ONLY example of the government doing a better job than private citizens.  Can you imagine if the government ran the TV industry?  We would still have black and white, 15 inch sets that cost more than the 42 inch flat screen TV's of today.  But lets trust them with health care....
12 years 4 months ago
Mr. Kopacz,

What would you like documentation for?  Sometimes I speak from experience, sometimes from what I have read and other times give an estimate based on conversations with others. I often provide links for things I say.  I do not want to be wrong so would appreciate any questions about my comments you feel are wrong.

For your information, health care industries are notoriously low in profits and if there was 30% in administrative costs that would give them a great incentive to lower it.   Here are profits for various industries and health insurance profits are 2.2% which is very low.


I can point you to a podcast by a cousin of George Bush who is in the business of lowering administrative cost for medical organizations if you are interested.
12 years 4 months ago
''I have to prove everything and Messrs. Landry and Cosgrove have to prove nothing.''
- You quoted ''facts'', Mr. Kopacz.  I think its part of being a ''thinking'' individual to ask for proof or source for these facts if you're making an argument.  My Jesuit debate teacher expected as much from me.  You have to prove your case.  That is the essence of debate.

No one is suggesting you should let the majority determine your individual thinking.  But if the majority rejects your argument, you have to be resigned to that.  No one, save for a blessed few in the Congress, thinks that America can, should, or will move to a European-style welfare distributionist state.  Again, look at the political FACTS.  The argument re: the Bush tax cuts has gone from ''should they be extended'' to ''how long should we extend them''. 

And again, I don't think your statements about insurance companies their ease of dispensation reflects economic reality.  The President quickly learned this, it would seem, in opting for his own deeply flawed bill over the single-payer system he previously supported.  Again, just the political and economic FACTS.

I understand (from your comments) that you are committed hard Leftist, i.e. one committed to the position that government can and should replace private enterprise in most arenas and that as a consequence you would like for even greater government intervention into everday American life.  My reply is that you are welcome to that opinion & I believe you have a rational basis for that position, but you have to recognize that the majority of the country is not so committed to that position and that just because they don't hold that position doesn't mean we/they are any dumber or more corrupt than you or bought-off-simpled-minded automatons.  Maybe we have some rational basis for our opinion too.
Vince Killoran
12 years 4 months ago
A few sobering facts:

1. Despite the cards being stacked against it, the single-payer idea garners the highest percentage of support of any scheme out there-sure it's somewhere in the 20-40% range but, hey, our work is cut out for us.  Don't a majority of Catholics get transubstantiation wrong?

2. By all measurements-life expectancy, costs, infant mortality, satisfaction, etc.-the USA ranks pretty low. The other systems aren't perfect, but hey, they deliver to everyone on a humane basis.

3. There's no reason to think that government can't do the job.  A few years ago a pilot program in which private companies distributed social security benefits failed miserably compared to the federal government.

4. Oh, BTW Jeff, did you know that you are a "committed hard Rightist"?  But don't worry:you are welcome to that opinion. We get it-but what will it take for you to stop assigning fellow bloggers political labels? 

5. Here's a shocker: we are not as conservative as our politicians.  If fact, when social scientist dig into people's views of government's role they find that, to an amazing degree, they actually support a fairly interventionist state.

6. So I never did find out from Joe, Jeff, et al.: what do you think of the Pope's view of health care? 
Thomas Davis, Colonel, USA(ret)
12 years 4 months ago
Pope Benedict is partially correct in one part of his statement. It may be a MORAL responsibility to assure Access to health care, but no citizen should be expected to have a legal obligation to provide any such care to those who engage in illicit and immoral behavior nor to those too lazy to seek and engage in produtive labor. I may be my brothers keeper but not the keeper of his indolent, wastrel and lazy friends.
As the Holy Bible says, "God helps those who help themselves."
Stanley Kopacz
12 years 4 months ago
Mr. Landry,

It is very hard to isolate facts in a debate about economics.  The causality is complex and difficult to discern.  Sometimes it seems that you can take the "facts" of economics and argue in any direction.  I am not an economist but I'm trying to learn something since these things are important.  It is a dreary science, as they say, and I'd rather read about solar energy.  I've read a book or two but the development of an economic theory of everything seems elusive.  And it is not as straightforward as chemistry or physics.

As far as being a leftist, I'm not sure.  At the present, I'd just be happy to reduce or eliminate the influence of money on our politicians.  The corporations, in bed with the government, and the government's military, and the corporate media is one scary conglomerate.  ANd I don't trust them at all, with my welfare or the country's.  I don't believe the market is free.  If it IS free, it won't be without a referee. I'm fearful the government CAN'T do the things it is supposed to do (not theoretically but in practice) because, in my estimation, it's fallen into a corruption unrivalled since the days of the robber barons.

I don't think you or Mr. Cosgrove are stupid.  Quite the contrary.  My reference to my degrees was only because I was apparently wandering into the realm of the brain dead and felt I needed some backup.  If I am argumentative, it's only because I work, drink and hike with conservatives for decades and am not a shrinking violet.  They think I'm nuts and I think they're nuts.  But we get along, while frequently argueing. 
12 years 4 months ago
''2. By all measurements-life expectancy, costs, infant mortality, satisfaction, etc.-the USA ranks pretty low. The other systems aren't perfect, but hey, they deliver to everyone on a humane basis.''

On life expectancy, when homicides and car deaths are factored in, Americans live as long or longer as any other Western nation.  This is despite the fact that Americans weigh more than people in other countries and which in itself leads to health issues.  The number of people per 1000 who die in car accidents or homicides is dramatically higher than most other countries and this is what skews life expectancy rates.

The infant mortality rate is as good as any country.  It is just how this is calculated in the US.  Read


And when there is trouble in Canada, they come to the US.  Few go to Canada for their medical system.
12 years 4 months ago
Mr. Kopacz,

The reason economics is called the dismal science is due to David Ricardo who developed The Iron Law of Wages

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Ricardo  though some say someone else coined this phrase


This followed on Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations and was developed in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution when there were many horrors as a result of the new industries.  Because his theory predicted subsistence wages, economics was called the Dismal Science.  His ideas proved wrong though and in the long run, the Industrial Revolution while causing a lot of anguish at different times and places did result in continually rising living standards.  
Vince Killoran
12 years 4 months ago
Well, Cosgrove, here we go: I offer a link, then you offer a link.  The recent attempt by conservative activists to make American life expectancy seem not-so-bad fails in the face of academic studies. Here's the latest from last month:

"It's not obesity rates, or smoking, or traffic accidents, or even homicides. Rather, the primary culprit, according to Peter Munning and Sherry Glied of the Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, is the poor quality of health care in the United States."

Re. Canadians coming south:there's evidence that poorer Americans go north as well-and the Canadians coming south are wealthy and doing so for fairly mundane elective surgery. 

Re. your link to article re. infant mortaiity: It's a column by Dr. Bernadine Healy, a doctor and a conservativcew figure whose columns do not refer to any independent research.  Her claim is not supported by the WHO and has been refuted by health care policy anaylists in Canada, Australia, and NZ.

I'm not certain this is a good use of AMERICA's web space so I'll bow out and let you have the last word.  But real studies-not op-ed pieces-are more compelling.
Daniel Horan
12 years 4 months ago
There are definitely some interesting comments here and some seemingly tangential conversations present among the pack.  I would like to return to the first comment, that by Emma cheering Pope Benedict XVI's encouragement of healthcare and, echoing his predecessor John XXIII, states that it is a universal human right. Here is my reflection on the subject: ''A (Really) Dangerous Memory: Selective Moral Recollection and the USCCB.'' I'd be interested in what you think.
12 years 4 months ago
''here we go: I offer a link, then you offer a link.''

A couple things, I did not see any link but found a couple references to the study you quoted from.  It is a study from Columbia and does contradict what I found.  My information came from a book referenced in another book.  Here is the referenced book


Without having a copy of the book, I can not quote directly from what is in it. 

From a study comparing the US and Canadian health care systems, the conclusion is that when adjusting for frequency of teen age births and race the US has a slightly better infant mortality rate than Canada.  They are essentially the same.  The infant mortality rate seems to be an artifact of demographics and behavior and not the health care system.


And finally an analysis of the factors affecting infant mortality and life expectancy.


Without the actual study from Columbia and comments on it, analyzing their findings will have to wait till more people report on it.  But as I said, it does contradict the other information. 
12 years 4 months ago
To answer the question directed to me about my thoughts in response to the pope's statements, I respond that I respond to them just about as much as a liberal Catholic (I know, I hate the labels too, but they are what they are) responds to his comments about wearing fiddleback chausables and having a crucifix and 7 candles on the altar.  That is to say, I think the pope is speaking first on a general level, i.e. a statement about basic moral principles, and on that level I have no disagreement.  Contrary to what some might think, conservatives are NOT opposed to universal health care.  However, what I am concerned about is the result or effect of a large government intrusion into the health care delivery system.  Insofar as the Pope's perceived opinion about the role of government in the goal, I think in part it reflects his European and german background where larger intrusive government is the norm.  I do not take his view as binding morally on me as a Catholic living in a particular poltical and economic system quite distinct from that of Europe.  I think my view of the Pope's comments is in line with Catholic doctrine, i.e there are times the Pope speaks merely as a human being expressing his own judgment as such as opposed to expressing a matter of doctrine.  Unless liberal Catholics have endorsed "creeping infallibility", I think this remains the consensus view.
Gail Grazie
12 years 4 months ago
''Justice in health care should be a priority of governments'' and ''Justice requires guaranteed universal access to health care''
It appears the Bishop of Rome understands social justice.  

12 years 4 months ago
"Justice requires guaranteed universal access to health care," he said, adding that the provision of minimal levels of medical attention to all is "commonly accepted as a fundamental human right."

Most people in this country are not worried about "minimal levels of medical attentioin".  They are worried about having access to those things that could be called "pharmacological, medical and surgical consumerism".

Did the Holy Father say that we should all have equal health care?  Or did he say access to "minimal levels of medical attention"?  I would argue that all citizens of the US do have access to this level of care. 

Would people have access to greater levels of "minimal" medical attention with a free market or with Government run health care.  When has government provided greater levels of anything than the free market?  I would argue that ALL United States citizens have access to this "minimal" level of care.  They however have unequal access to 100,000 dollar cancer drugs and titanium hip replacements.
12 years 4 months ago
One of the problems with the health care system is that it is like a poker game with an ever increasing pot.  In a pot limit game only a few people can afford to play because the cost is too high.  The cost of state of the art health care keeps increasing and not everyone can afford state of the art health care no matter what the good intentions are.  New procedures, medicines, practices are now available but many are expensive.  

I know someone who recently had two knee replacements and they weren't cheap but medicare paid for them.  Such was not available 15 years ago.  Here is a new instrument that will greatly improve eyesight for people with macular degeneration.  


It costs $15,000 and with the attending doctor, hospital and nursing fees, will be multiplied by four.  Who should get such a procedure and instrument?  The answer is not everyone who needs it because things like this are just one of many that have to be paid for and the truth is no matter how rich the nation, it cannot afford everything, let alone to extend it to the world.
Vince Killoran
12 years 4 months ago
Before the parsing of the Pope's words goes any further let's be clear that he is calling for universal access regardless of an individual's ability to pay, and that government play a central role in bringing this about.

It's laughable to suggest that we have anything approaching that in the USA today. Some opponents of universal care pretend that simply having the right to be a health care consumer in the overpriced, multi-tiered private system is sufficient.  That is not the "equitable and human health care" of which the Pope writes.

emma clery
12 years 4 months ago
Bravo and gratias, Holy Father.

How fast will the USCCB have to run to catch up with this?  And who was that american bishop who said national healthcare destroys the vitality of the free market? 

Sisters who run Catholic hospitals , take heart.

Good health to all ??t?h?a?t?
Stanley Kopacz
12 years 4 months ago
We can't afford everything but we can do better.  We can have a system like the Europeans, where 95% of dollars sent to insurance companies is expressed as medical care instead of 30% lost to people denying coverage to patients, including CEOs making hundreds of millions of dollars per year.  In Germany, the insurance coverage is private but regulated.  Medical Care should provide as much health care as possible to the people while providing reasonable compensation to the people who do the work.  More money would be available for coverage if the insurance companies didn't spend as much money manipulating the government and electoral system.  Probably a small amount to the Grand Profiteers but a large amount in terms of hip replacements.

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