Welfare & Subsidiarity
August Wed 05, 2009
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Finally President Barack Obama has been able to keep the attention of the country on the issue of health care. As a result, it has not been a good political week for the President. In an interview with Time Magazine the Obama acknowledged that “this has been the most difficult test for me so far in public life, trying to describe in clear, simple terms how important it is that we reform this system. The case is so clear to me. And when I sit with our policy advisers, when you start hearing the litany of facts, what you say to yourself is that this should not be such a hard case to make, because the American consumer is not really getting a good deal…it leads me to spend a lot of time thinking about how I can describe this in the clearest terms so that we can get the health care that the American people deserve.”
Why do the American people find this so difficult to understand? I do not think the American people find it that difficult. I think the problem is that the American people almost instinctively feel a threat to one of the most important, defining values of American nationhood, namely the value of subsidiarity. I think it is the President whose background lack of experience of the value of subsidiarity makes it difficult to him to understand the dangers almost instinctively experienced by the majority of the people.
The fact is that the American people pay more to get less health care security than any other industrialized nation in the world. I think most Americans understand this. Most Americans understand that there is need for reform of their present system. The question the ask is: at what cost?
The problem is that the question about cost is being described purely in economic terms by Obama and his advisors. And indeed, the question about economic cost is an important one. The people are afraid that the way of dealing with this concern proposed by the President is simply too risky and it may even worsen the economic health of the country. I think though that the economic risk is however not the one that most concern the majority of Americans.
Perhaps one example will clarify the issue. Part of the proposed cost-cutting measures in the proposals that the President will accept proposes that the Federal government will pay for a doctor-patient discussion about the possibility of what is, frankly, assisted suicide. The Administration insists that the final choice about refusing treatment will always be that of the patient and that the Federal government will respect the patient’s choice. Still, consideration of the possibility of choosing assisted suicide will be payed for by the government as a cost-cutting possibility, and this simply scares those for whom the pro-life issue is crucial. Others see it as opening the door to the Federal government’s intrusion in to what should remain a private, intensively personal issue.
A member of the new generation of conservatives recently told us that this is a moment of opportunity for Obama’s Catholic advisers. He himself had been converted from agnosticism to Catholicism by discovering the correspondence of the social doctrine of the Church with his conservative views, particularly the Church’s teaching about subsidiarity. But will the President’s many Catholic members of his Administration and his advisors recognize this moment of opportunity to witness to how the Catholic social doctrine can show the way for a reform of the health care system that will avoid this governmental intrusion into such a personally defining issue? In order to do this, these Catholics should witness to the consistence in the Church’s effort to demonstrate that the pro-life position is in fact the very basis for the recognition of health-care assistance as a natural human right. This is the key issue in this discussion, but so far it has not been raised as such.
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