The National Catholic Review
Scott McConnaha
Why are pro-life groups attacking Catholic health care leaders?
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Recent attacks against health care reform and its supporters—based on fears of expanded abortion coverage and state-sponsored euthanasia—are as absurd as Don Quixote’s battles against windmills. Of course, I do not believe opponents of reform are insane, as Don Quixote was thought to be, but the fervor with which they are fighting mythical health care proposals calls to mind Cervantes’ hapless hero.
 
First of all, I want to be clear that support for health care reform does not insinuate support for abortion and euthanasia. Catholic health care organizations across the United States have unwaveringly advocated a health care system that promotes and defends the dignity of every person from conception until natural death. Reform measures that threaten the unborn or encourage our elderly or terminally ill loved ones to intentionally end their lives would be strongly opposed by Catholic medical institutions. Most observers understand that this is our stance, and it seems unnecessary for me to have to state it so plainly. But that is the position I now find myself in.

Recently, an organization known for its promotion of pro-life activities posted an article on its  Web site titled, “Major Catholic Organizations Push for Healthcare Overhaul Despite Abortion Mandate.” The organizations singled out were the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, Catholic Charities USA and the Catholic Health Association of the United States. Similar claims have been made by other organizations and individuals. Over the last few weeks, some of these same groups have alleged that mainstream Catholic health and social service organizations support end-of-life consultations that supposedly offer euthanasia as an acceptable option. This is a willful distortion of the facts that must be strongly resisted by all Catholics in the health care field.

I do not want to dwell on the political motivations that drive such attacks. But I think it is quite clear that their goal is simply to undermine progress on the health reform front. Were I a disinterested outside observer, I would applaud their political gamesmanship. They have begun to steer the debate in a direction that threatens meaningful reform. But since I am not disinterested, and because I am on the side that sees health care reform as an opportunity to “answer God’s call to foster healing, act with compassion, and promote wellness for all persons and communities,” (A Shared Statement of Identity For the Catholic Health Ministry, 2001) I am appalled.

To suggest that the “major Catholic organizations” would advocate expanding abortion access and coverage, as well as promote euthanasia, would be nothing more than laughable if it were not for the apparent influence the “misinformers” have over many unsuspecting Catholics. As director of corporate relations for a Catholic health care ministry, I used to spend most of my time helping legislators understand that true reform must, among other things, uphold the dignity of all persons. Yet now, as with others in this line of work, I have to devote a great deal of effort correcting all the misinformation that, unless checked, could derail reform altogether. Some friends and loved ones who have heard the rumors and exaggerations have even hinted that I might be on the wrong side of this debate. It is as if our own weapons have been stolen and used against us.

Pro-life principles are our hallmark, whether applied to beginning- or end-of-life care, or the care of the poor and vulnerable. Yet when these principles are misused for political purposes, they become dangerous tools that are turned on the very people and organizations that are working tirelessly to promote reform measures that, above all else, respect the dignity of every person, no matter his or her stage in life, no matter his or her economic status. 

At this point in the debate, the question of whether abortion will be covered in the final health care legislation is still unclear. Yet the question of where the Catholic health care community stands on this most important issue is anything but. In solidarity with the Catholic Health Association and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, we are actively promoting legislation that is in keeping with our pro-life principles. That means no use of taxpayer funds for abortion; no mandated abortion coverage as part of a benefit package; and provisions that respect providers’ conscience rights.

As for end-of-life care, nothing is being considered that would require seniors to submit to end-of-life consultations, much less to consider deliberately ending their lives. The current House bill does not require people to engage in such consultations and it does not require anyone to sign a directive or living will at the end of the consultation. The provision that has been misinterpreted by Betsy McCaughey and others simply covers voluntary discussions of the variety of end-of-life services available, such as palliative care and hospice. The proposal that such services should be paid for by Medicare should be supported, not purposely misrepresented.

Many of the well-intentioned people we need to help further the cause of meaningful health care reform have been sidetracked; they are tilting at windmills. Eventually, Don Quixote recognized the misguided nature of his quests and declared to his family, “My judgment is now clear and unfettered.” We can only hope that everyone in the health reform debate will be able to proceed with clear and unfettered judgment as we strive to look past the unfounded and unrealized threats and maintain a singular focus on what actually lies before us.

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Comments

FRED CLOSE | 3/8/2010 - 10:19pm
Scott Mc Connaha is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts. The expansion of elective abortion is the difference between the Senate bill the administration is trying to pass, and the House bill. If this is not a game stopper, we have denied the faith.
If this good man couldn't see this in August, no one can deny it now. Under the Senate bill many people will be forced to pay for other people's abortions as the price of getting coverage themselves. And worse, this is the false argument that supporters of this (Senate)approach use "Can't you see that it is better for these (unwanted babies) to die than to deny us this "historic reform" of health care?" Elective abortion is not health care, and no amount of attacking pro-life forces, while complaining as if he and other administration apologists were under attack, can change it.
Marie Rehbein | 9/9/2009 - 2:35pm
John,
     You are correct that no business simply goes live with a multi-million or more project.  However, depending on the project, it does not necessarily build a mini version or a prototype. 
 
     The type of thing that you are looking to test seems to be whether the patient receives the care he or she needs promptly, adequately, and cost effectively.  The Medicare and Medicaid programs are those tests.  They excell where private insurers are failing.  The fact that the funding these programs need is lacking may simply be due to the fact that money which would go into that program is being diverted to private insurance.
 
     However, given the condition of our economy and the fact that the insurance industry very much resembles the lending industry in how money is handled and invested - policies being bundled and sold in secondary markets, etc. - there probably is some concern about the impact on the world economy of going to a single payer system in one fell swoop even though this is the most cost effective and fair way of getting health care to every citizen.
 
     Nevertheless, we each have a responsibility to look after our own health.  To that end, we each should contribute an equal percentage of our income to funding a single payer system from which payments are made for our medical care as needed.  This would protect our incomes from the unpredictability of illness and injury while providing certain payment to our medical care providers for their services. 
Jim | 9/5/2009 - 2:06pm

I am a legislative and public policy expert.  I have worked on state and federal issues for bishops, Catholic hospitals and Catholic charities, since 1988.

Looking back over the last 20 years,  I challenge Scott's claim that "Catholic health-care organizations have unwaveringly advocated a health-care system that promotes and defends the dignity of every person..."  That claim / statement is not accurate, nor is it correct.

I deal with the realities of our state and federal legislative and political systems on a daily basis.  I know the difficulties and challenges, especially with regard to health care and life issues.  Having said that, please share the name one Catholic hospital system that is committed to "unwavering advocacy."

Our Catholic hospital systems are failing the religious women who went before them and built a significant portion of today's America's health-care system.

Catholic hospital systems can do better and have an obligation to do better.

John | 9/4/2009 - 1:47pm

Marie, the context of that poll was the news that Obama and co, claim to have found "some" of the money needed to fund their "reform" by getting rid of Medicare Advantage.... which 1 in 10 seniors have and like. Indeed it's one of the newer reforms to Medicare and works.... so it's in that context that people are angry that the government is going to mess up what works to pay for what's not been proven to work...ANYWHERE.

If this whiz-bang "reform" is so wonderful, why not try it in a pilot program JUST FOR THOSE 47 MILLION? Do it for 1/10th the amount proposed for the whole country. Then let's watch the experiment in real time and see what all the bugs might be, what could be improved, etc. Give it 4 years and then we'll take stock on the "reform" to see if it's truly a cost savings or not.

But no. That's never how government from the Left works. It's just assumed the "plan" is insuperable, and since the people who wrote it are self-described 'geniuses', we're just supposed to apply it across the board and then NOT take any measures to see how well it works. The thing is, no one does this sort of thing in the real world. People try prototypes, test vehicles, etc. they run it small, medium and large samples to various consumer groups.

If helping the poor by hiking taxes on the rich is so effective at reducing or eliminating poverty....give me an example of a single city, county, state or region, run by Democrats where this idea has succeeded. 

Joe Kash | 9/3/2009 - 11:57pm

America Magazine seemed to be upset with the US bishops and prolife groups when the screamed about FOCA.  Yet Obama dropped FOCA (for now) like a hot potato.  Now the bishops and prolife groups are screaming about abortion/euthanasia coverage with health care reform.  What will happen?

What would have happened had bishops and Catholic remained silent about FOCA.  Would Obama have pushed it?  What would have happened had bishops and Catholics remained silent about the open-ended healthcare bills and congressmen who refuse to have explicit languange that would prevent coverage of abortion and euthanasia?

We cannot remain silent on this issue.  The party in control of all three federal branches of government explicitly wants to protect abortion and make it accessable to those who are poor.  This means that they WILL cover abotion in healthcare reform UNLESS it is fought.

Shame on America Magazine and the Jesuits for not only remaining silent on this issue but for critisizing those who are fighting to protect the unborn.

Michael Bindner | 9/3/2009 - 7:30pm
Reform is urgent, as prices (not necessarily costs) continue to go up, which also necessitates support for a public option.  Indeed, there is nothing in the Magisterium against the public option and much in Papal teaching to support it.
 
While we as Catholics would like the bill to be abortion neutral, keep in mind that private insurance funds abortion services and birth control in many, if not most, cases.  This insurance is subsized by taxpayers, as it is deductible on business income taxes.  Treating the public option as just another health plan would not be much different.  In the ethics text used in minor seminary and pre-law programs, Fagothy's Right and Reason, support for the state where abortion is legal was addressed.  Fagothy reasoned that taxes and participation may not be withheld because the taxpayer and citizen participation in any abortion is remote.  The same reasoning can be applied to the current issue.  While we would prefer that abortion neutrality be maintained, it need not be a deal breaker under natural law reasoning.  This being the case, I suspect that the insistence on abortion neutrality has as much  to do with a desire for influence  as preventing abortion, especially since state and charitable funds will most likely fill in the gap.  Some might even call it tribalism.
 
What is more important is to use this opportunity to also do tax reform, and to include a radical increase in the child tax credit.  To fund this increase, the exemption for children, the mortgage interest deduction and the property tax deductions would be ended.  As the largest need when families grow is increased housing, this change will not hurt the housing sector as a whole, although it will likely change the mix of housing provided.  This result is so in concert with Catholic Social Teaching and the Church's infallible Magisterium that I would consider it a mortal sin to oppose it.
Marie Rehbein | 9/1/2009 - 3:10pm
The may not be insane like Don Quixote, but honestly, a large number of people (around 70% of FOX viewers, less generally) actually responded with "yes" to the question asked by MSNBC, "should the government stay out of Medicare?".  This means that they either feel that the elderly should not have government provided health insurance, or they do not realize that the government provides that insurance.  Either way... 
francis | 9/1/2009 - 11:52am
Mr Mconnaha's statement is an important reminder that we take tiny little steps, one at a time, through life and its challenges, doing what we can to most effectively bring about God's kingdom. Maybe it's the simplicity, the (false) comfort of believing in one's own righteousness, which draws people to think that every aspect of modern existence must be seen through the prism of the abortion debate. It's not that easy, unfortunately, to find certitude anywhere (except in faith), much less to find it everywhere by seeing the world as a one-note tune.
John | 8/31/2009 - 2:15pm

The way to assure that politicians won't allow the CURRENT language of the various bills to remain the way it is, is for all Catholic organizations, ESPECIALLY the "non-pro-life" ones, to vociferously insist on a change to the CURRENT language so it will not expand abortion coverage.
There are enough Catholic democrats in Congress to make this happen, if they're honest when they say they're "personally opposed" to abortion, or forcing other Americans to pay for abortion via tax dollars.

As for urgency, there is none. We can 'solve' health care next year or the year after that... the only 'urgency' is the coming insolvency of Social Security and Medicare because this and past Congresses have spent the money that was originally collected in taxes obstensibly for those programs, on other boondoggles. We could 'solve' the problem of "47 million" uninsured for much less than $1Trillion over 10 years... we could reduce costs and corruption of insurance by tort reform.... something not even on the table of this 'reform' legislation.

We could settle the entire controversy of abortion etc. by adding rider amendments to this legislation....But no. What we have is what's in the Congress right now. By simultaneously calling on Catholics to "support reform now" and waiving a caveat that "but we'll make sure they don't keep the abortion supporting language in it" we run too high a risk that they will keep it in there. So the Pro-life movement is taking the much more sane approach: say no and then make them come to you for votes.....rather than saying "yes" and hoping they will remember your desires 'in conference' where all sorts of mischief happens. 

Randall K. | 8/31/2009 - 10:29am

Some of the responses here are unbelievable. The article is not demeaning and it does not condone ramrodding reform at all costs. This piece is simply a reasonable response to a couple pro-life organizations that reported, rather outrageously, some nonsense about CHA, SVdP, and CCUSA accepting abortion and euthanasia as part of reform.

And those who are bent on killing reform simply because there might be an expansion of abortion coverage, are acting prematurely and are doing no favors to a ministry of their very own church. In case you weren't aware, reform is going to happen with or without you, and its effects are going to be far more reaching than just abortion and end-of-life care. That's why Catholic health care and other Catholic social service organizations are staying in the reform debate.

Depending on which way reform goes, Catholic hospitals will either be allowed to continue fulfilling their necessary mission, or they could be even further burdened by costs, regulations, and lack of compensation, to the unfortunate extent of even going out of business in some cases.

Since abortion is part of the debate, should Catholic health care simply fold its arms and refuse to further involve itself like some in the church have done? Of course not. Thank God they are staying right there demanding that reform measures allow them to continue their mission, and also demanding that reform not expand abortion access. It is possible—necessary even—to do both. If they bailed now, not only might abortion access expand, but the health care system might be restructured in a way that runs them out of business. Then what have we gained? More abortions and no Catholic hospitals standing as a witness to what this country needs.

Those who are choosing to be all-or-nothing Catholics this early in the game have every right to burrow under and leave reform in the hands of others. But what they shouldn’t do, and this was the gist of Mr. McConnaha’s article, is try to bully others into doing the same. Thank God we have Catholic organizations remaining committed to the mission and who have said quite clearly, many times now, that once legislation is final, and if it is ant-life and anti-poor, they will not support it.

Barb | 8/28/2009 - 5:23pm
The Catholic Church should provide health care to those who cannot get it from private sources.  Christians are called to care for those in need with great love.  Do not expand the government's role in health care; the government does not help those in need with great love.  They do it by coercing others to pay for it.  Catholics need to step up their support of the Church; we've got to become more generous.  But if it is the prudential judgment of the Bishops to support health care reform through government mandates, then the Catholic healthcare organizations must withhold support of the government proposals until the proposals show clear exclusions of abortion coverage and clear protections against euthanasia (or the abuses that lead to mercy-killings).   The government leaders pushing healthcare reform with abortion provisions are Catholic.  No wonder the pro-lifers throw fits when CHA and Society of St. Vincent dePaul seem to endorse these proposals.
John | 8/28/2009 - 9:48am

According to TIME magazine, and factcheck.org, the House bill does indeed cover abortion. Democrat congressman Stupak too has been quoted contradicting Obama's assertion that abortion "isn't in there".

So who's telling lies and misleading Scott? Time magazine? Factcheck.org? A democrat congressman? The 1,000 page text itself with abounds with vaguely worded jargon that any lawyer can construe to mean whatever they want after the fact?

So we're just supposed to accept that whatever is put together under a title of "reform" is indeed "reform" and thus morally imperative? Surely you expect all citizens to actually read the 1,000 page documents - and we have been, no thanks to Obama's original request to ram-rod the legislation through in 2 weeks. And Lo, we are reading and thus we are reacting negatively to what we're actually reading, not what pundits are claiming. Does this make us ideologues Scott? We're not allowed to actually react to the text itself?

William E. McCormick | 8/27/2009 - 11:50pm
To the Editors:
Please check the above responses, as your computer made most of them unreadable.
William E. McCormick | 8/27/2009 - 11:45pm
How can the author demean all those whose only "sin" is trying to stop the healthcare plan from promoting abortion and euthanasia? The author says he's in agreement with all of them. Sadly, the author fails to understand that if we don't wage the foregoing fight, both abortion and euthanasia will most assuredly be part of Obama's legislation (if not expressly, then in application). How do we know? Just check out Obama's statements over the years and the fact that those (e.g. Sibellius) whom Obama chose to run the program are as avidly pro-abortion as he. BTW, various attempts to make certain that abortion and euthanasia are not covered benefits have already repeatedly been voted down by the House Democrats.
Ann | 8/27/2009 - 6:27pm
"John's" response is typical of the vehemence Mr. McConnaha is addressing.  With the multiple bills and options being looked at, can one really be so certain?  Clearly, we can side with the Catholic church's teaching on all of the pro-life issues, including advocating for the poor and vulnerable in regard to healthcare.   Obviously abortion is a deal-breaker but we are nowhere near the end of the debate.
Roger | 8/27/2009 - 5:15pm
Dear John (post #2), I don't think the article said anywhere that there's nothing to worry about. In fact, he quite clearly said, more than once, that as soon as the evidence is there, they are going to "rally against it." I think that's great. Finally, a rational voice in this mess. How would any of us get out of bed every morning if we were afraid of what might happen?
Christopher Mulcahy | 8/27/2009 - 2:33pm

Mr. McConnaha makes a simple playground error in his breathless defense of  Catholic health care leaders.  “Let me hold your bat and ball—I’ll give them right back.”  Of course the bully takes the bat and ball and runs off.  Similarly the Congress will take their 1000+ page unreadable legislative mandate and run off and do whatever they choose, including abortion and end of life counseling.  The legislative rhetoric is meaningless.

 

McConnaha states “Reform measures that threaten the unborn or encourage our elderly or terminally ill loved ones to intentionally end their lives would be strongly opposed by Catholic medical institutions. Most observers understand that this is our stance, and it seems unnecessary for me to have to state it so plainly.”  He says it, others say it, therefore it is so.  The reality is that abortion is increasingly tolerated by the Church, as Archbishop Quinn’s nearby column concedes.  Abortionists and abortion supporters abound in Catholic circles nationally and take communion at will.  Our universities have caved completely.  Suicide also is tax-subsidized in some states, and we hear little about it from “Catholic health care leaders”.  The center is not holding in the Church.

 

Someone needs to inform Mr. McConnaha that in the real world, like on the playground, plaintive voices accomplish little.  Our government has proven itself morally untrustworthy on multiple levels and should hardly be trusted with management of our health care.

JoAnne | 8/26/2009 - 10:29pm
I'm on several prolife mailing lists and I've seen this "us vs them" mindset displayed repeatedly along with a tendency to use straw man logic to make a point.  They are upset that these "major Catholic organizations" appear to be falling into line with Obama rather than forcefully opposing and condemning him.  I know prolifers who proudly admit they want health care reform to fail in hopes of getting rid of Obama faster.  If that takes bending the truth (death panels, tax funded abortions, euthanasia) they believe it's for a good cause.  In other words, the end justifies the means.