As we predicted last week, President Obama is using moral arguments to push through congress at lightning speed his health care reform bill. In every one of his many interviews over the last week, the president has explained his insistence on immediate passage of the bill by referencing his moral imperative to provide health insurance for the cancer patient who today can't afford basic treatment. He then continues his line of moral argument with an emotional plea for Americans to pressure their representatives to seize the moment and to reject the notion of another forty years of the status quo. He ends the interviews by saying, "This isn't about me-- I have health insurance," a reiteration of his case that his bill is an apolitical issue of right and wrong.
President Obama is right and smart to talk about ethics in the same breath as health care reform. Notwithstanding the many merits of American health care, merits routinely overlooked and imperiled by our rush to reform, our insurance system is cumbersome and impractical. And increasingly, it is unjust. The government has an obligation to rectify this injustice by protecting citizens from some unscrupulous health insurance companies that gauge their clients and routinely escape payment. As President Obama says, the state also has a moral obligation to use tax dollars to provide basic health care for citizens who are unable to purchase it on their own.
But if there is one thing ethicists and moral theologians agree upon, it is that conditions and circumstances surrounding an ethical issue do matter, and that these indeed can change the moral value of the issue in question. For example, giving money to a poor man may usually be a good thing; but giving it to him when you know he is going to buy a gun and kill his family would be all together evil.
President Obama doesn't seem to be aware of any conditions or circumstances that may alter our "moral imperative" to pass his bill and to pass it right now.
We should be aware of many.
1) President Obama's argument that our choice is between a) his bill right now and b) no reform for another forty years is fallacious.
2) His refusal to answer basic questions about how we are going to pay for his bill (refusing to take off the table the massive surtax option while also refusing to say he plans on using it if he can) is not fair.
3) Independent budgetary analysts disagree with the President about what this reform bill will do to minimize overall government health expenditures (the president says we "can't afford" not to pass his bill) and about the impact of the 1 trillion dollar cost on other parts of our economy.
4) Under the proposed legislation individuals will be required to have health care coverage that meets minimum benefits standards. These standards will be established by the Obama administration. There is very good reason to believe these minimum benefits that health insurance companies must provide will include abortion on demand. Obama has said reproductive care is essential care, basic care" and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has added, reproductive health includes access to abortion. Congressman Joe Pitts (PA) recently warned in a written statement that any individual who does not have a plan that meets the minimum benefit standards will be forced to pay a 2.5 percent tax penalty. And any employer who does not provide coverage that meets these standards will pay up to an 8 percent tax penalty,"
5) This week the president himself admitted he cannot guarantee tax money will not be used for abortions under his plan. Why can't he guarantee that? Because he wants it in his plan and will mandate it if he can.
6) Euthanasia is not explicitly excluded from the category of basic health care either. If it is not excluded, eventually it will be demanded, and we will pay for it.
For President Obama to continue to use moral arguments to demand immediate passage of his bill, without also putting to rest the conditions and circumstances I outline above, is ethically reprehensible and politically unacceptable.
God bless, Father Jonathan