Senate Backs Away From End-of-Life Provision

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks at a health-care reform town hall.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks at a health-care reform town hall. (photo: grassley.senate.gov)

One down, a much bigger one to go.

That’s how Catholics might characterize yesterday’s move by the Senate Finance Committee to drop a provision that would have allowed taxpayer funding of doctor-patient end-of-life discussions from its version of the health-care reform bill.

“Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement Thursday that the provision had been dropped from consideration because it could be misinterpreted or implemented incorrectly,” Associated Press reported yesterday.

Sen. Grassley’s statement can be read here.

The provision to fund end-of-life discussions is included in the version of the bill that has been passed by three committees in the House of Representatives. If the move by the Senate signals the permanent demise of this proposal from the health-care reform package, it’s good news. Critics of the provision warned, with good reason, that it could open the door to pressure for doctor-assisted suicide for patients suffering from serious illnesses that would be costly to treat.

The willingness of Senate Democrats to give ground on this issue gives reason to hope that the health-care reform bill also can be amended to address the biggest pro-life concern about the bill as it’s currently drafted: The inclusion of a mandate for taxpayer funding of abortion services.

Go here to read the letter Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, sent Aug. 11 to members of the House of Representatives detailing Catholic concerns about this issue.

“As longtime supporters of genuine health-care reform, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is working to ensure that needed health reform is not undermined by abandoning long-standing and widely supported policies against abortion funding and mandates and in favor of conscience protection,” Cardinal Rigali said in the letter. “I urge you to help ensure that any legislation that comes up for a vote in the full House does not include these unacceptable features.”

President Barack Obama has been quite skillful in obfuscating about where he stands regarding his commitment to the inclusion of an abortion mandate in the final health-care reform bill, but there’s little doubt he strongly desires its inclusion. Still, the fate of the euthanasia-related provision hints that neither Obama nor the pro-abortion Democratic leadership in Congress want to risk defeat of the entire health-care reform bill over inclusion of controversial provisions like the abortion mandate.

But Catholics should also note that it was only intense public opposition to the end-of-life provision that induced the Senate Finance Committee to back away this week from the end-of-life provision. Obama and congressional Democrats are much more strongly committed to the inclusion of funding for abortion services in the health-care reform package, in order to placate their party’s powerful abortion lobby.

This means that it’s critical for Catholics to continue to deluge the White House and their elected representatives in Congress with phone calls and e-mails demanding there is no abortion mandate in the health-care reform bill. Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress need to know that their entire health-care reform initiative is in grave danger of collapsing unless they respond constructively to these pro-life concerns. 

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