Christ's healing ministry directs the Christian's concern for the sick, particularly the vulnerable, and those who have little or no voice in decisions pertaining to their health care.
Cognizant that all of human-kind are created in the image of God, the human family must share in the healing ministry manifested by Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church, as the largest provider of nongovernmental health care and social services in this country, has responded to this Gospel imperative.
However, government has continually intruded in the exercise of this ministry through mandates that impact the free exercise of religion of those involved in this delivery of health care. Such intrusions have escalated, threatening the well-being of the most vulnerable, most recently by some of the provisions contained in the federal Health Care Reform proposal.
The issue is not whether all persons deserve access to affordable health care; the issue is who will decide, particularly for vulnerable populations, what health care is mandated, received, and publicly funded.
Intense negotiations to produce health care reform legislation have been taking place in Congress, most recently in the Senate Finance Committee and in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. With the August congressional recess upon us, constituents have the opportunity to express their concerns to their members of Congress before a final vote occurs in the fall.
The message to Congress is: "Please support amendments that exclude abortion mandates, prevent federal funding of abortion, uphold state laws that regulate abortion, protect the conscience rights of health care providers, and protect the elderly, the infirm, and persons with disabilities from rationing as well as mandates impacting their end-of-life care." For more information see: http://nchla.org/issues.asp?ID=51.
Abortion Mandate, Funding, Violations of Conscience:
Federal law has long excluded most abortions from federal employees' health benefits plans and places no requirement on private plans.
This could radically change. Current provisions stipulate that there is at least one plan in every region of the country that covers abortion. While public monies will not pay directly for abortion, health plans would receive federal subsidies to help pay enrollment premiums for low-income people, for plans that will cover abortion
Furthermore, provisions such as those requiring timely access to all benefits covered by qualified health plans could be used by courts to override state laws regulating abortion. Thus, it should be clear in the legislation that these state laws will not be preempted.
Also, federal laws protective of conscience rights of health care providers will be in jeopardy, particularly with this requirement of regional access to abortion. The conscience rights of parents regarding vaccination requirements could be impacted. There even are provisions for "increasing intervals between pregnancies" of those enrolled (See Sections 1711-1714). Congress should ensure that this legislation will maintain protections for conscience rights.
Rationing and Mandatory End-of-Life Care:
The proposal creates a government committee determining allowable benefits and treatments, and restricts enrollment in this plan of persons with special needs. The latter is an attempt to interface with health plans for those with special needs included under the Social Security Act, the outcome of which remains unclear. Hospitals will be penalized for government-deemed preventable readmissions. This constitutes rationing of care.
Eligible health care plans will be required to offer Medicare recipients the opportunity to engage in advanced care planning consultations every five years, or more often if there is a change in health status. This could result in actionable medical orders to exclude life-affirming and proportionately beneficial care, within an unforeseeable circumstance. Such orders will remain actionable across continuums of care and across all health care settings. Reasonable medical interventions, including certain medications, could be excluded from the plan of care. Persons could inadvertently agree to dehydrate or starve to death, when reasonable use of assisted nutrition and hydration would be beneficial. With the aforementioned rationing, decisions concerning end-of-life care could be taken away from patients and their families. (See Sections 122, 123, 203, 1151, 1176, 1177, 1233, 1751.)
Marie T. Hilliard, Ph.D., J.C.L., R.N., is director of bioethical and public policy for the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. Published courtesy of the National Catholic Bioethics Center (www.ncbcenter.org/details_news.asp?idOfEvent=442)