Deceptions and Distortions: Why are pro-life groups attacking Catholic health care leaders?
Recent attacks against health care reform and its supporters—based on fears of expanded abortion coverage and state-sponsored euthanasia—are as absurd as Don Quixote’s battles against windmills. Of course, I do not believe opponents of reform are insane, as Don Quixote was thought to be, but the fervor with which they are fighting mythical health care proposals calls to mind Cervantes’ hapless hero.
First of all, I want to be clear that support for health care reform does not insinuate support for abortion and euthanasia. Catholic health care organizations across the United States have unwaveringly advocated a health care system that promotes and defends the dignity of every person from conception until natural death. Reform measures that threaten the unborn or encourage our elderly or terminally ill loved ones to intentionally end their lives would be strongly opposed by Catholic medical institutions. Most observers understand that this is our stance, and it seems unnecessary for me to have to state it so plainly. But that is the position I now find myself in.
Recently, an organization known for its promotion of pro-life activities posted an article on its Web site titled, “Major Catholic Organizations Push for Healthcare Overhaul Despite Abortion Mandate.” The organizations singled out were the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, Catholic Charities USA and the Catholic Health Association of the United States. Similar claims have been made by other organizations and individuals. Over the last few weeks, some of these same groups have alleged that mainstream Catholic health and social service organizations support end-of-life consultations that supposedly offer euthanasia as an acceptable option. This is a willful distortion of the facts that must be strongly resisted by all Catholics in the health care field.
I do not want to dwell on the political motivations that drive such attacks. But I think it is quite clear that their goal is simply to undermine progress on the health reform front. Were I a disinterested outside observer, I would applaud their political gamesmanship. They have begun to steer the debate in a direction that threatens meaningful reform. But since I am not disinterested, and because I am on the side that sees health care reform as an opportunity to “answer God’s call to foster healing, act with compassion, and promote wellness for all persons and communities,” (A Shared Statement of Identity For the Catholic Health Ministry, 2001) I am appalled.
To suggest that the “major Catholic organizations” would advocate expanding abortion access and coverage, as well as promote euthanasia, would be nothing more than laughable if it were not for the apparent influence the “misinformers” have over many unsuspecting Catholics. As director of corporate relations for a Catholic health care ministry, I used to spend most of my time helping legislators understand that true reform must, among other things, uphold the dignity of all persons. Yet now, as with others in this line of work, I have to devote a great deal of effort correcting all the misinformation that, unless checked, could derail reform altogether. Some friends and loved ones who have heard the rumors and exaggerations have even hinted that I might be on the wrong side of this debate. It is as if our own weapons have been stolen and used against us.
Pro-life principles are our hallmark, whether applied to beginning- or end-of-life care, or the care of the poor and vulnerable. Yet when these principles are misused for political purposes, they become dangerous tools that are turned on the very people and organizations that are working tirelessly to promote reform measures that, above all else, respect the dignity of every person, no matter his or her stage in life, no matter his or her economic status.
At this point in the debate, the question of whether abortion will be covered in the final health care legislation is still unclear. Yet the question of where the Catholic health care community stands on this most important issue is anything but. In solidarity with the Catholic Health Association and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, we are actively promoting legislation that is in keeping with our pro-life principles. That means no use of taxpayer funds for abortion; no mandated abortion coverage as part of a benefit package; and provisions that respect providers’ conscience rights.
As for end-of-life care, nothing is being considered that would require seniors to submit to end-of-life consultations, much less to consider deliberately ending their lives. The current House bill does not require people to engage in such consultations and it does not require anyone to sign a directive or living will at the end of the consultation. The provision that has been misinterpreted by Betsy McCaughey and others simply covers voluntary discussions of the variety of end-of-life services available, such as palliative care and hospice. The proposal that such services should be paid for by Medicare should be supported, not purposely misrepresented.
Many of the well-intentioned people we need to help further the cause of meaningful health care reform have been sidetracked; they are tilting at windmills. Eventually, Don Quixote recognized the misguided nature of his quests and declared to his family, “My judgment is now clear and unfettered.” We can only hope that everyone in the health reform debate will be able to proceed with clear and unfettered judgment as we strive to look past the unfounded and unrealized threats and maintain a singular focus on what actually lies before us.