“Heal the Sick”: Why Public Health Care is a Christian Duty

By Aana Marie VigenProfessor of Christian Social Ethics, Loyola University Chicago Does expanding public health care equal “socialism?” Some say … Continued

By Aana Marie Vigen
Professor of Christian Social Ethics, Loyola University Chicago

Does expanding public health care equal “socialism?” Some say “yes,” but I say it is simply the Christian thing to do. Of course, it is not exclusively Christian–people of every (and no) faith tradition also see caring for the sick as essential to their religion/philosophy. I applaud secular ethical arguments in favor of public health care: it will benefit (not sink) the U.S. economically, socially, and politically, and it is part of our civic obligation.

But it is also a Christian obligation. I am a “cradle-to-grave” Lutheran. I teach bioethics at a Jesuit University, which provides excellent health care coverage. My spiritual and moral values are shaped by vibrant Christian worship, bible camps, and seminary. But I must have missed something because I can’t understand why Protestants and Catholics alike aren’t marching in the streets demanding comprehensive health care reform. Thousands denounced President Obama’s invitation to Notre Dame. Yet, I don’t perceive as many publicly supporting his efforts to extend care to every child, adult, and family.

I understand why Christians of good faith find themselves on both sides of abortion debates, but health care reform? That should be a no-brainer! If we are a people shaped by our respect for life and the dignity of the human person, how can we not be at the front lines of health care reform? Even more, why do many of us oppose a public option for health care?

The Gospels overflow with stories of Jesus caring for people in need–not only the fortunate few, but whole gatherings of people–hungry masses, gaggles of children, and scores of the infirm. In one instance, Jesus healed too many to count (Luke 4:40). If we take Jesus seriously, then our obligations to the naked, hungry, beaten, suffering, and vulnerable are hard to deny. This is not new or revolutionary–Christians have understood this duty for centuries; it’s why the first hospitals in the West were founded by religious communities and why so many doctors and nurses were also priests, monks, nuns, ministers, or lay members.

How should we understand Jesus’ command to the disciples to “cure the sick” (Matt. 10-7)? How do these words make a claim on us? If we are the body of Christ–disciples–then are we doing enough to make sure that the “blind, lame, paralyzed, leprous” of our day receive care; that people plagued with mental illness find peace; that the hemorrhaging stops?

Consider the next verse: “You received without payment; give without payment.” (Matt. 10: 8). This passage has both important theological and financial meaning. Theologically, it reminds us that all people live by the grace of God–given freely.

Consequently, Christians are called to embody this grace for others–friends, family, neighbors, and strangers alike. Jesus did not favor V.I.P.’s, societal insiders, the affluent, or people with the best paying jobs. But that is exactly what our currently-fragmented health care system does. Significant numbers of people go bankrupt every year because of medical costs. Thousands of others are being cut off of charity care because hospitals and doctors can no longer afford to be generous. Others delay seeking care or are refused care because they don’t carry the right or adequate insurance. Jesus cared for whoever needed attention the most–regardless of status, wealth, or employment. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) shines a spotlight on the responsibility to care for the stranger (and to pay the bills!).

Are we willing to put our money where our scriptures are? Health care is not free. I ask only that we shoulder one another’s burdens. That is what a public option will do. Medicare and public schools are federally-funded. They use taxpayer money to care for and educate others and no one calls them “socialism.”

A solo network of private insurers is necessarily focused on profit and rewarding consumption, not on offering high quality and affordable care to everyone. Germany, Switzerland, Taiwan, Japan, and England provide excellent care to everyone–some combining public and private plans. Compared to them, U.S. health care is embarrassing–incredibly expensive, uneven, wasteful, bureaucratic, and unfair. A public option will provide competition, accountability, and a refuge for the multitudes of the uninsured (nearly 50 million) and for the throngs who struggle daily due to inadequate insurance coverage (20 million or more). At root, public health care is a moral and civic responsibility–not a “left/right” issue or a political game.

If we don’t act–quickly, publicly, prophetically, unapologetically–millions of hard-working adults and precious children will be left on the side of the road. (And we might very well find ourselves among them one day if we lose our jobs, get seriously ill, retire, divorce, or change careers). So Christians, let’s get off our redeemed and justified behinds and ACT!

Aana Marie Vigen, Ph.D., is assistant professor and director of majors for the Department of Theology at Loyola University Chicago.

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  • globalone

    “A public option will provide competition, accountability, and a refuge for the multitudes of the uninsured (nearly 50 million)…”Dr. Vigen,I couldn’t agree more with the crux of your argument. We, as Christians, should be doing everything in our power to make sure that everyone has access to afforable healthcare. But… that doesn’t mean we can’t voice objections on how to reach that goal.For instance, according to the current provisions in the absurd 1,000 page health care reform bill, nearly 15-20 million people WILL REMAIN UNINSURED. That’s right. 15-20 MILLION.So, for $1.5 trillion (TRILLION!) were getting a health care package that barely cuts the number of uninsured in half, bars most workers from leaving their employer plans, and drives up Medicaid costs to the states.(BTW: These are the same states that are on the brink of bankruptcy and contemplating IOUs and/or forcing state employees to work, temporarily, for free. GREAT IDEA!)I swear, you couldn’t make up the stuff that President Obama does if you enlisted the help of Stephen King.

  • SECULARGURU

    Why a “Christian” Duty?Hmmmmmmmmmm (like CCNL would say).

  • gimpi

    Globalone,Conservative Christians dominated the last administration, and working for universal access to health care was nowhere on the radar. At the risk of being petty, conservative Republicans had their chance to address this. They messed up. Now, people with a different view how the world should work are in charge, because the electorate rejected the ideas of the last administration. That’s how this works.When Republicans dominated, conservative ideas such as deregulation of the financial sector, tax breaks for the well-off, budget deficits and a “sink-or-swim” idea of social welfare and disaster relief (see New Orleans) had their chance. Now, the Democrats are in ascendency and they will get to try some of their ideas out. Ideas like accessible health care for all, and higher taxes on the well-off to pay for it. Just like conservative ideas, some will work, and some won’t. But they get their chance.I really feel that, just as the Bush administration got it’s chance to try out it’s ideas, so the Obama administration should get it’s chance. It’s fair to call people on things after they fail. It’s not fair to claim they will fail before they try. And it’s really not fair to decide in advance however things work, you will call it failure, since you don’t like the people trying.

  • SECULARGURU

    CHURCHES Should Provide “Health-Care” (for a monthly Fee) to Their own registered “Constituents”/Member/Congregants via their Local PRIVATE + PUBLIC HOSPTIALS FOR A “Fixed-Fee” not “Sliding Scale” based on “INCOME” (which is not Reliable in time).continued:

  • SECULARGURU

    “LOCAL” (Private & Public Mergers) Hospitals (Jointly Zip-Codely) not Insurance Companys/Entitys, Should become Their Own “INSURANCE COMPANY’S” for Ethical + Moral Break Even Services. Get Rid Of The BROKER (middle Man)!When it comes to Health & Medicine, Then the Profit (not Prophet) Factor should be Minimized or kept to “Break Even” points LOCALY & NATIONALLY! Man-Kind does not need to Profit (Eccessively?) by Longizing Humanity or Preserving Such Humans longer.WE all live Day-To-Day: From Hand-To-Mouth Daily (regardless how Rich or Poor)! When WE [i] Die (Biofinitely yes; but Never TRANS{FINITELY) We [i] do not take our Wealths /Possesions With-Us No matter how Precious!Sooo; Medical Attention is Everybodys BIZ & no one Shall Prophet Excessively From Such practice: which Belongs to mankind according to the DOCTORS OWN “HYPOCRATIC PLEDGE”S!Meaning: “… For Better Or For Worse…” We will do OUR best to take Care of YOU/US/WE[i]ALL E-Q-U-A-L-Y!!Note: Every Doctor will have “ReasonablePay” not Excessive Self Created Pay” Equally under The LAw Of The Land! Soo, Every Body Is Happy! Yes, Best of Both Worlds!A Doctor a Day Should only get daily what it needs to live “Normally” not Execcively!”Malpractice-Insurance” law-suits will be diminished! Because the Doctor will have to “Personally” Pay-out for Their (not our) “Willfull-Reclklessness” (under proven “Reasonable-Doubt”). Like One Cop who goes astray under His/Her Color of The LAW. The same Applies to Doctors.Note: Sending Patients to “SPECIALISTS” Over-Seas Also is a Strong Option when the Local-Group/Network of Specialists cannot Meet Ones “Medical [Precedure/Service] Price”The Medical World Needs a NEW-Vocabulary! For NEW-times!

  • SECULARGURU

    Ooooopppsssa:PS: A Doctors Education Fees Should Be Subsidized by the Local-Hospital at say 65%!Note: The Medical World Must Be “SOCIALIZED” forget Banks & Car Manufacturers!Yes! A bit of “Socialism is Needed (& is Good) in the MEDICAL Fields Exclusively!If England or France et al can do it; Why Not Sweet Sweet U.S. of A.’s!????

  • SECULARGURU

    LAWS permitting DOCTER’s to “ADVERTIZING” should be SUSPENDED! Forget Liers/LAWYERS once upon a time not being able to advertise themselves FOR PROFIT!YES? NO?

  • Veritatemdicere

    Jesus did indeed obligate his followers to heal the sick.He did not specify how they were to do that, though, it would appear that he thought that some sick folks would appropriately be healed by miracles performed by his followers.To enlist Jesus’ authority on behalf of the particular “health care reform” policy being proposed by the majority party in Congress is disingenuous. It may or may not be a good policy. But invoking Jesus’ name to try to convince people to back it is a fundamental abuse of Jesus’ name. It is a form of taking Jesus’ name in vain.We currently have a public health care system. Hospitals are forbidden to refuse services. This may or may not be a good public system. But to imply that we have no public system and need one because Jesus said so is inane.

  • ccnl1

    Hmmm, SECULARGURU, the “blog hogger” is back violating blog etiquette and rules to include “Thou shall not impersonate”.

  • globalone

    Gimpi,”It’s not fair to claim they will fail before they try”If only half of the 50 million americans that are currently uninsured would benefit from the health care reform as put together by the House, then it is a FAILURE. I don’t need to wait five years to see whether 15 or 20 million people will ultimately be uninsured.The major purpose for health care reform, as told to us by President “Unemployment won’t go past 8%” Obama, was to provide quality healthcare to EVERYONE. Does 20 million uninsured Americans sound like a success to you?

  • ccnl1

    “Universal” health care should only be for those who live healthy life styles. Those who use tobacco products, for example, should be not be covered.

  • ccnl1

    Then there is the issue of STDs i.e. should our soon-to-be “universal” health insurance pick up the $14 billion dollars a year spent to cure STDs? Considering getting a STD is due to living an unhealthy life style, it should not be covered. from the CDC-2006″Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain STDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psychological consequences of STDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs associated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars.”

  • Athena4

    The problem is that conservative Christians thing that the sick should be relying on Jesus to heal them. This is the same denomination that says that the teachings of Jesus include, “I got mine, to he11 with you!” Or, “it’s your own fault that you got sick, because you didn’t pray hard enough. I’m not paying for you.”

  • RunnerMama

    In terms of the STD and Tobacco argument- what of the wife whose husband cheats on her and she gets an STD from him? Or the child who is raped? Or the child who inhaled second hand smoke from her parents, or the waitress who inhaled second-hand smoke at her job. You can not generalize and exclude entire segments of the population based on a biased opinion of what their choices may or may not have been. Would you make exception for them? How would you propose our healthcare system handle the requirements as to whether they *deserve* healthcare. You would not want to be judged in that way. What of the person who decides to pick out an aspect of your life and deem that healthcare unworthy- ride a bike on busy streets -that’s unsafe you shouldn’t be covered. Ever drink a glass of wine or have a few beers? Unhealthy -uncovered.A religious person would know only God should be their judge. Every human is entitled to healthcare. And to the argument for emergency room care as a means of providing public healthcare- what a bunch of hooey. Why should a person have to wait until they are so sick they have to go to the emergency room to receive care. By then it may be too late. Also, study after study shows people without insurance do not receive the same standard of care as those with insurance.

  • fabian955

    To provide a legitimate (non-punitive, non-exploitive) welfare system is also the duty of Christians, but I believe it’s easy to see that the US firmly rejects a range of Christ’s teachings. Note to those who fear the impact of second-hand cigarette smoke: Don’t worry about it. Smoking isn’t healthy, but when it became a source of “enhancing state revenues,” facts about smoking/second-hand smoke were thrown out the window. The most carcinogenic (cancer-causing) smoke is the kind that contains oil particles, as produced by motor vehicles, not cigarets. Traffic fumes are a far greater danger to our health than second-hand smoke. Under 20% of US adults smoke, and restrictions are so stringent that few of us have ANY exposure to tobacco smoke whatsoever. Traffic fumes permeate the air in urban areas, affecting millions of us. It takes a room full of smokers to produce as much smoke as is simply turning the ignition on your car. Virtually all breathing-related disease today is the result of excessive exposure to traffic fumes. It is this oily smoke that enables us to spot cities in the distance by the yellow/gray dome of smoke on the horizon. This is what is damaging tropical rain forests, causing the melting of polar ice, and producing the increasingly violent weather in between. If all tobacco disappeared, it would have virtually no impact on air quality and rates of breathing-related disease. THIS is the urgent issue we have to face if we want to reduce disease and health care needs costs. Yet every single time there is a public push to address this, cigarets (a much easier target) are brought into the discussion to distract the public.