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BY Mark Henry
President Obama, under the cloak of the American
Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“Recovery Act”), enacted a wide-ranging
law that, among other things, fundamentally changes America’s health-care
system. Many in the pro-life community are anxious that the new law heralds an
ominous future for health care in America.
reason for the concern is that the health-care provisions in this law will move
America closer to the nationalized health-care systems in Europe, where
euthanasia is becoming more widespread.
these health-care changes have little to do with the avowed purpose of the
Recovery Act, which was to help solve America’s current financial crisis. By
burying these health-care changes in the Recovery Act and by fast-tracking the
legislation to President Obama’s desk for a signature, Democratic leaders were
able to stealthily sidestep the public outcry which derailed President
Clinton’s failed effort in 1994 to increase federal control over health care.
what is it about the health-care provisions in the Recovery Act that are
causing concerns in the pro-life community?
new law will fundamentally change the standard which Medicare follows in paying
for medical care and, in so doing, may place seniors at risk of not receiving
necessary life-sustaining care. Previously, Medicare would pay for medical care
that is safe and effective. The Recovery Act changes this and imposes a
cost-effectiveness standard set by a new bureaucracy, the Federal Coordinating
Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research.
Medicare focusing on whether treatment is cost-effective, there is a real risk
that Medicare will cut back on coverage of end-of-life care like intravenous
nutrition and hydration to seniors who are hospitalized with serious illnesses.
This has prompted worries in the pro-life community that these Medicare changes
could pave the way for pro-euthanasia policies in America’s health-care system.
new requirement that medical care be cost-effective may also usher in a system of
health-care rationing, which is already prevalent in Europe. The prospect of
health-care rationing in America triggers concerns by seniors that certain
medical care provided by Medicare will no longer be covered.
The prediction of senior health-care rationing is
evidenced by statements of Tom Daschle, former Department of Health and Human
Services secretary nominee. Daschle is thought by many to be the architect of
the new health-care laws. In his book Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis, Daschle said, “Seniors
should be more accepting of the conditions that come with age instead of
treating them. That means the elderly will bear the brunt.” Daschle is also
known to have expressed admiration for those European countries that limit
end-of-life medical care to the elderly.
Democratic Party leadership’s beliefs that the health-care budget ax needs to
fall on seniors reflects a very utilitarian philosophy of favoring productive
younger and healthier citizens at the expense of the elderly. A precursor to
this Medicare policy of restricting senior health care can be found by looking
back to the recent Bush administration. In 2005, former U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt proposed that Medicare
recipients should be encouraged to sign living wills to reduce senior
people do not realize that living wills are the main tool that the euthanasia
lobby uses to encourage people to agree to an accelerated death via euthanasia.
wills typically authorize health-care providers to deny life-sustaining care to
elderly patients, resulting in tremendous cost savings to health-care providers
when the denial of care results in a patient’s accelerated death. Former HHS
Secretary Leavitt’s proposal to require Medicare patients to sign living wills
was dropped when it generated a hostile reaction by a public that was not
willing to embrace this controversial health-care cost-cutting measure.
Escalating health-care costs have prompted a variety of
responses in Europe, including health-care rationing in England and
legalization of euthanasia in the Netherlands and Belgium. One element that
each of these national health-care cost-driven reactions has in common is that
they target the elderly. Given the Recovery Act health-care law’s apparent
purpose of reducing elderly health-care costs, the pro-life community’s concern
that this new law puts seniors in greater risk of being euthanized seems well
troublesome aspect of the Recovery Act is the creation of a new federal
bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, which
is given broad yet intentionally vague enforcement powers to insure that doctors
comply with the new federal cost-containment dictates. This does not bode well
for the rights of conscience of Catholic doctors and other health-care workers
whose religious beliefs may be contrary to future cost-containment directives
that, for example, might favor abortion and euthanasia.
Recovery Act’s health-care law changes seem to be based on principles of
utilitarianism, which many Catholics find objectionable. Simply put,
utilitarianism has a decidedly diminished view of personhood that is
irreconcilable with Catholic teachings.
to this philosophy, human beings are to be looked at in terms of how useful
they are to society. Younger people, except possibly the preborn, are viewed as
useful and productive, whereas the old and terminally ill are marginalized and
not valued. The Recovery Act’s health-care changes clearly favor the young and
healthy over the old and less healthy. Reduced to its most fundamental element,
the Recovery Act’s health-care laws are quite utilitarian.
lies the dilemma this law poses for Catholics who seek to follow the tenets of
John Paul II’s landmark 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) taught us that all human life has value. In his
Letter to Families, John Paul II warned us against utilitarianism and its
impoverished view of human life. More recently, Pope Benedict stated on the
World Day of the Sick, “Man’s life is not a disposable good, but a treasure to
be preserved and cared for with as much attentiveness as possible, from the
moment of its beginning to its ultimate and natural fulfillment.”
Benedict did not say that the sick are to be cared for as long as it is
cost-effective to do so. The contrast between these Catholic teachings and the
utilitarian nature of the Recovery Act’s health-care laws is stark indeed.
the next few weeks, Americans will begin to comprehend the full impact of the
Recovery Act’s landmark health-care changes. Catholic hospitals and doctors
will be tasked with the daunting job of reconciling these new health-care
policies with the Catholic principles that guide their medical mission.
seniors may wish to consider protecting themselves against euthanasia using
pro-life health-care documents. Others may be called to contact Church
officials to encourage them to stand firm against utilitarian values in these
new health-care policies that undermine the respect for life. As we approach
the fourth anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II, all Catholics can be
inspired by John Paul II’s legacy of life, which will help us respond to the
challenges posed by the new health-care laws — without sacrificing the
principle that all life is worth living.
Mark Henry is an attorney, speaker and
author of Finish
Faithful, a how-to guide
on Catholic estate planning.