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.
One 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.
Ironically, 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.
Just what is it about the health-care provisions in the Recovery Act that are causing concerns in the pro-life community?
The 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.
With 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.
Medicare’s 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.
The 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 health-care costs.
Many 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.
Living 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 founded.
Another 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.
The 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.
According 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.
Therein lies the dilemma this law poses for Catholics who seek to follow the tenets of Catholic teachings.
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.”
Pope 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.
During 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.
Catholic 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.