By Cardinal Justin Rigali
There is a great deal of attention being given to current government proposals surrounding health care. While it is not the Church’s intention or desire to enter into politics, when moral principles are at stake it is part of her mission to defend the dignity of the human person. In that spirit, we approach this week’s topic.
A basic moral principle
There is a basic principle of morality which states: “The end does not justify the means.” Just what is the meaning of this statement? Each of us can be faced with an array of problems. Our goal may be to solve those problems. That, in itself, is a good thing. However, simply because we wish to bring about a good solution, or end, as it is more technically called, does not mean that we can use any and every way, or means, to bring that about. To give a simple, and somewhat exaggerated example, let us propose the following: “I would like my family to have a nice vacation.” In itself, that is a good and praiseworthy end. However, if I then go out and rob a bank in order to pay for that vacation, I am not using a legitimate means!
The confusion of a praiseworthy end, along with the blurring or justifying of any means to attain that end, is not a new problem. Satan tempted our first parents in the garden by promising them great knowledge if they gave in to his temptation. Knowledge is a good thing. Disobeying God’s commands in order to achieve such knowledge is not.
Saint Paul also addresses this in his Letter to the Romans (3:8), in which he answers those who accuse him of claiming that the end does justify the means.
Saint Augustine reminds us that no morally wrong action may be taken, even if we seem to have a good reason for that action, and even if we have a good intention motivating us (Contra mendacium, chapters 1 and 7).
Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) was always conscious of giving clear direction in the midst of a society which was undergoing great upheaval after the Second World War. He restated the Church’s traditional moral teaching on this question in these words: “God desires us always to have, above all, an upright intention, but that is not enough. He also requires that the action be a good action. It is not permissible to do evil in order to achieve a good end” (Address, 18 April 1952).
Appeal to emotions
We know that we live in an age of instant communication. This instant communication, which is good in itself, can also lead to the “sound bite” and mere appeals to emotion. A quick word or statement can take an issue out of context and present an incomplete, and sometimes false, version of an issue. Similarly, as I have stated in this column before, emotion is a good thing and is a beautiful part of our human nature, but emotionalism, which is a momentary, shallow appeal to what often becomes an unthinking response, is not good.
As our country addresses the important issue of health care, there is always a danger of falling into emotionalism and of forgetting that a good end does not justify an immoral means. Charity, especially towards those who are sick, poor and in the greatest need, has always been a part of Christian teaching. In fact, at Pennsylvania Hospital in our own city of Philadelphia, which was the first hospital founded in the United States, there is a beautiful reminder of the foundation of Christian charity towards the sick. On a large etched glass, there is an engraving of the scene of the “Good Samaritan” from the Gospels. Underneath is this translation of the words of that Gospel: “Take care of him and I will repay thee.”
From the earliest times, the followers of Jesus have engaged in the work of caring for the ill and the weak. This is one of the reasons why the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is the second largest provider of care to those in need in the state of Pennsylvania, second only to the government itself. This is also why there are 624 Catholic Hospitals, 499 Catholic Long-Term Care Nursing facilities, 164 Home Health Agencies and 41 Hospice Organizations sponsored by the Catholic Church in the United Sates alone. All of these services help us to fulfill the mission entrusted to us by Christ.
Consistent concern with health care on the part of the U.S. bishops
Since the Catholic Church in the United States has played, and plays, such a significant role in health care and since we are called to uphold the dignity of the human person, the bishops of the United States have voiced their concern many times for a just and equitable health care program for all our citizens.
Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Chairman of the United States Bishops’ Committee for Domestic Justice and Human Development, voiced our concern in a letter he sent to all United States Senators and Representatives in July. In part, Bishop Murphy said: “For decades, the Catholic bishops of the United States have been and continue to be consistent advocates for comprehensive health care reform that leads to health care for all, including the weakest and most vulnerable. The bishops want to support health care reform.” However, on behalf of all the bishops of the United States, Bishop Murphy also sounded an alarm, because of some of the proposals that have been made as part of a proposed reform bill. Bishop Murphy continued: “We have in the past and we must always insist that health care reform excludes abortion coverage or any other provisions that threaten the sanctity of life.”
At a time when so much good will is being shown to create an equitable, affordable and just health care system in the United States, it would be tragic if this praiseworthy end were corrupted by including an immoral means, namely provisions for abortion. This would not be health care.
As Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York said in a recent interview: “Health care reform is a good thing. However, if it leads to the destruction of life, then we say it’s no longer health care at all – it’s unhealthy care and we can’t be part of that.”
Since we are at such a critical crossroad in this debate, as the Congress prepares to vote on a health care plan after the August recess, I have also written to members of Congress in my capacity as Chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. Information has also been sent to the parishes, for inclusion in the parish bulletins, so that our people may understand these issues more clearly. This newspaper has already written about my recent letter to Congress, and you can find it on the web site of the Bishops’ Conference (http://www.usccb.org/healthcare/).
I would also like to quote it briefly here. While praising parts of the proposed health care bill, I found it necessary, on behalf of all the bishops of the United States, to point out some serious flaws, especially those concerning the dignity of life. I pointed out the following: “The legislation delegates to the Secretary of Health and Human Services the power to make unlimited abortion a mandated benefit in the “public health insurance plan” the government will manage nationwide. This would be a radical change: Federal law has long excluded most abortions from federal employees’ health benefits packages, and no federal health program mandates coverage of elective abortions. Because some federal funds are authorized and appropriated by this legislation without passing through the Labor/HHS appropriations bill, they are not covered by the Hyde amendment and other federal provisions that have long prevented federal funding of abortion and of health benefits packages that include abortion.”
I further summarized our case in this way: “About 80 percent of all hospitals do not generally provide abortions, and 85 percent of U.S. counties have no abortion provider. By what right, then, and by what precedent, would Congress make abortion coverage into a nationwide norm, or force Americans to subsidize it as a condition for participating in a public health program?”
I urge you to visit the web site I noted above, contact your Representative and Senators and acquaint yourself with what is at stake. Now, more than ever is not the time to allow the sound bite or emotionalism to make a case for what could ultimately bring about a praiseworthy end, accomplished by an intrinsically evil means.
20 August 2009
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