Health Care should have preservation of life at heart

A friend of Presbyterians Pro-Life recently sent me a copy of a Catechism for Young Children. It was written as an introduction to the Shorter Catechism, one of the documents in the Book of Confessions of the PC(USA). Published by the Presbyterian Board of Publication in Philadelphia, it was and copyrighted in 1840. It is a wonderful gem of truth and teaching.

The first several questions offer teaching about God's creation of human life and about our substance as beings that are more than the bodies we inhabit.

Q. 1 Who made you?

Q. 3 Why did God make you and all

A. For his own glory.

Q. 4 How can you glorify

A. By loving him and doing what he commands.

Q. 5 Why
ought you to glorify God?

A. Because he made me, and takes care of me.

Q. 6 Are there more gods than one?
A. There is only one God.

Q. 19 Have you a soul as well as a body?
A. Yes, I have a soul that can never die.

Our nation is embroiled in a heated debate about health care. It's not a new debate. There is, however, a growing sense that our current system of health care is broken and an intense desire to find a solution quickly. Recently, faith groups--mainline denominations, interfaith coalitions, and advocacy groups-- have joined in calling for a speedy resolution that will provide health care for everyone. The PC(USA) is one of the denominations joining the discussion.

Presbyterians have long displayed an active concern for society and involvement in our country's government. We take seriously the commands of Scripture to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 19:19). The years of Presbyterian caring are visible in the countless colleges, hospitals, children's homes, mission organizations, food pantries, pregnancy centers, and other works of help and care that have been established. Our compassion causes us to want good health care to be accessable to everyone and the prospect of a quick solution is enticing. But there is grave danger here that in our hurry to help we will sacrifice more lives than we will save.

Once before, Presbyterian compassion led to the abandoment of principles of faith that strike at the heart of who we are as created beings in Christ. In the late 60s and early 70s, Presbyterian women became concerned by the numbers of women dying from botched back alley abortions and they began to work in the church and in the nation for support for legal abortion. Their compassion for women was sincere, but they proposed the wrong solution. Where they should have addressed the spiritual, social, and economic needs that caused women to feel so desparate about their pregnancy, they instead provided abortion as the answer to a "problem" pregnancy.

Thirtysome years later, even some women who would label themselves 'pro-choice' are admitting that abortion harms women. The loss of humanity is staggering. Almost 50 million U.S. babies have been aborted. Countless men and women live with regret, grief, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and other symptoms as a result of their abortion experiences.

Now PC(USA) voices are speaking out in the national health care debate. Our current policy on abortion and our alliances with pro-abortion groups (i.e. Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice) threaten to cause us to propose the wrong solution once more. Presbyterian General Assemblies have called on the government to establish a national health care plan as recently as 2008. Last week, Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) released a statement urging quick action on national health. The PC(USA) is on record as a supporter of a single-payer universal health care plan.

Where am I going with all this? Well, I'm not a fan of single-payer health care---I prefer personal freedom to government control as a general principle--but, it's not a cross I would die on.....except when that plan would put human lives at stake! When endorsement of a single-payer universal health care plan is coupled with the current PC(USA) social witness policy on abortion, then the result is advocacy for a health care plan that covers abortions. That puts pro-life Presbyterians in fundamental disagreement with the advocacy of our denomination. A Zogby poll in March surveyed 30,117 Americans from 48 states and found that 51-69% oppose federal funding of abortion. It is reasonable to assume that a poll of Presbyterians would produce similar results. Like most Americans, a majority of Presbyterians do NOT want to see abortion funded by tax dollars. They do not want to be complicit in destroying innocent human lives.

Abortion is not health care. Pregnancy is not a disease or injury requiring a cure. Pregnancy is a normal and usually a healthy condition. It involves two lives. While a woman does have particular health care needs during pregnancy, abortion is not a treatment. Abortion causes the death of the child and does nothing to enhance the health of the woman. Abortion is the termination of a human life, as is assisted suicide. Both end life, not in God's timing, but at the whim of human hands. That brings us back to the questions in the Catechism for Young Children: Who made you? Why did God make you...? Do you have a soul? A health care plan that includes abortion and/or assisted suicide goes against everything Presbyterians know and believe about God as creator and owner of human life. It denies who we are as human beings created in His image and for His glory and redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ! We are beings with souls, whose value is more than our bodies and whose purpose is eternal. Our lives, even the care of our bodies, ought not to be placed at the mercy of the political wind.

So, I believe I speak for most pro-life Presbyterians when I say, there are some specific things we ought to see in a health care plan endorsed by the PC(USA):

1. A good health care plan needs a statement excluding coverage of abortion, assisted suicide or any procedure or treatment that would deliberately cause the death of the patient (born or unborn).
2. It should include stated protections against the withholding of care or treatment needed to preserve a life, no matter how limited that life might be, and including those waiting to be born.
3. There ought to be written protections for medical providers so they are never required to participate in procedures or treatments against their religious conscience or risk losing their jobs if they refuse such participation.

Verbal assurances that these protections will be in the end product are not enough. Americans have been told that an advisory board will make these decisions. In the proposed H.R. 3200, decisions about what would be covered in an "essential benefits" package would be made by an advisory board appointed entirely by the President. Two thirds would be appointed by the president directly and the other 3rd appointed by the Commissioner (who apparently would be appointed by the President). One person would essentially control what procedures and treatments are covered by the plan. With each change of administration we would be embroiled again in controversy over what is a covered charge.

Without apology, this Presbyterian will be lobbying my senators and representatives to work for a health care plan that holds the preservation of human life as its central purpose. It's the right thing for Presybterians--we who believe that "he made me and takes care of me," "I have a soul that can never die" and "there is only one God"--to do.