02 June 2008

We're not as smart: A Catholic editorial

The Diocese of Davenport's newspaper, The Catholic Messenger, has this editorial by Frank Wessling on healthcare:
We are not as smart as they are. And we’re not as kind, not as compassionate. But in this case, it’s OK — or at least there’s nothing we can do about it.

Who is smarter and more compassionate? Practically all other people living in modern industrialized societies.

How do we know that? Because they are healthier, and it costs them less to be that way than it costs us to be relatively sicker. And because, even though we know those facts, we do nothing to effectively change the situation.

It gets worse. Other nations operate at a higher moral level when they ensure that everyone, including the poorest, has access to medical care when needed.

Health care is a basic right that should come with modern civilization. The Catholic Church came to that conclusion long ago. Popes began teaching that in the 20th century. Our bishops have taught it repeatedly, especially in national election years when attention is focused on critical issues of our national life.

Yet we Catholics are still little different from other Americans in accepting the deficient — practically and morally deficient — situation that exists.

Health care for us is subject to the pressures of a highly competitive economy, with the result that there are winners and losers. Among the losers are the estimated 47 million Americans without insurance; those who avoid needed care because of high co-payments and deductibles required, those who can’t look for a better job to support their families because they fear the loss of health insurance and businesses hurt by the higher cost of health insurance as compared with foreign competition. In looking at the causes of death in this country, it has been estimated that 18,000 people die each year from the effects of no health insurance or underinsurance.

In the United States, 16 percent of gross domestic product goes for our fragmented health care system while other developed nations generally spend less than 10 percent. And their people are healthier by almost every measure, they live longer and their infant mortality is lower.

Surely we can do better.

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is president of the Catholic Health Association, laid out all of this in a May 16 speech to the City Club of Cleveland, Ohio. She called it “a very ugly picture,” and made this observation:

“In no other area that I am aware of do Americans believe that other nations are smarter or more compassionate than we are. If they can do it, it seems to me that we ought to believe we can do it as well.”

The American bishops' silence on this issue has been shameful. For them to adopt as vigorous a stance on this as they've had on that other healthcare issue would do much to restore their credibility with the rest of us.

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