By Valerie Elverton Dixon
In recent town hall meetings, citizens have asked their Congress members if illegal immigrants will be covered under the current health care proposals. The Congress members I saw said no. In my opinion, this may be the politically correct answer, but it is not morally correct.
If we consider health care as a human right, and it is according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right inheres in one’s humanity not in one’s citizenship. Governments exist to secure and to maintain human rights. Thus, health care is not the responsibility of employers or of private insurance companies. Let us stipulate to the following: nations ought to have secure borders; laws regarding immigration ought to be respected; law breaking results in a restriction of rights; with the exception of emergency care, no nation ought to be expected to provide health care for citizens of other nations. Still, the respect that each human being is due by virtue of his or her humanity means that all persons ought to receive health care as long as they are living in the United States.
If we were to establish a universal single-payer system of health care in the United State funded through a consumption tax on junk food, tobacco, alcohol, firearms and ammunition, then there could be no complaint that undocumented people are taking anything away from citizens. They would be paying into the system through the consumption tax.
The idea of a universal single-payer system has been mischaracterized as socialized medicine. As President Obama explained in one of his recent town hall meetings, a single-payer system or a public option for health insurance does not mean that the government would own medical facilities or that doctors and nurses would be government employees. It would mean that everyone could go to a health care provider and or to the hospital, get medical attention, and the bill goes to the government.
Opponents of such a system say this would lead to rationing of services, long waits for necessary procedures and a government bureaucrat standing between patient and doctor. These concerns could and would no doubt find remedies through a system of supplemental private insurance. Free market capitalism would not lie down and die.
Faith in the free market and in competition has reached the level of an uncritical theology. No one has stood up to say that health care ought not to be subject to the profit motive, and this is exactly the situation we have today. Consumer protection legislation will not change this fact. Political and economic systems are amoral, neither moral nor immoral. Their moral content comes from the values and virtues we pour into them. This is the fundamental philosophical distinction between health care as a human right and a profit motive. The moral imperative toward generosity and the obligation of government is the case we ought to make within the contexts of our own spheres of influence, in our kitchen table, water cooler, barber shop, beauty shop discourse.
For people of faith, the right to health care not only exists because of the respect that humanity ought to have for itself, but it comes from the reverence we have for God, for God’s commands to care for the Other and for the image of God that God has placed upon creation, especially on the face of our brother and sisters, even those who are undocumented. People of faith have an obligation to the least and to the stranger.
Christians and other messianic religions are waiting for the Parousia. We are waiting for the already but not yet coming of the savior. We are waiting for the archangel’s cry of command, for the triumphal trumpet blast. We are waiting for the Lord to descend from heaven in the clouds. We are waiting to be caught up in the air to meet him. While we are waiting for this fantastic apocalyptic event, we pass by Jesus every day.
He harvests our crops, cleans our hotel rooms, and rears our children. He is the mother who is afraid to take her sick child to the hospital because she is undocumented. Jesus looks at us with a child’s eyes fixing his gaze upon a vague space between hope and trepidation. At the same time, God that is incarnate radical love is already with us and in us to help us move past our fears to an ethic of generosity and care that ought to make the moral content of our politics and of our economics.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder JustPeaceTheory.com. She taught Christian Ethics at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, MA and United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.