" WHEN I WAS SICK YOU CARED FOR ME "
PASTORAL STATEMENT ON ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE
"COVER THE UNINSURED WEEK"
FRANCIS CARDINAL GEORGE, O.M.I.
Chicago (May 14, 2004 )
Health and health care issues affect all of us each day. Good health is integral to a good life, even though believers know this life is not of ultimate importance. Access to health care supports the dignity that belongs to each of us as creatures of God. The Church therefore considers health care a basic human right. In the encyclical Pacem in terris, Pope John XXIII called medical care "among the basic human rights which flow from the sanctity and dignity of human life."
In America today, health care issues are at the forefront of personal and public discussion. Health care institutions face enormous pressures in rising costs, changes in government reimbursement systems and new modes of human and material resource management. Inside and outside these institutions are people, individual human beings, whose lives and dignity are profoundly affected by the availability, quality and cost of health care. Among these Americans, the underemployed and unemployed poor face the greatest challenges in meeting their health care needs.
In their 1982 pastoral letter, Health and Health Care, the U.S. Catholic Bishops stated:
We believe and hope that American society will move toward the establishment of
a national policy that guarantees adequate health care for all while maintaining a
pluralistic approach. As this develops, .Catholic institutions will take on a greater
responsibility in fulfilling the prophetic role of promoting Christian values,
championing the cause of the poor and neglected in society, and finding new
ways to blend personal care and technological skills in health care service.
The Bishops' hope for a just and adequate health care system in America, based on the human right to medical care, remains our challenge today.
FAITH AND EXPERIENCE
In the history of early Israel, God said, "I am the Lord who heals you" (Exodus 15:26). This God who creates and loves also heals and sustains our life. God's creating and healing work comes to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Jesus' ministry to the sick, his many cures and miracles, expresses the Father's everlasting compassion. In Jesus the healer (Matthew 4:23-25), we see God's loving recognition of the life and dignity of every human being. In the life of the Church, the compassionate healing of the Father and the Son is made available to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit, who strengthens us to be compassionate healers.
The Catholic Church in Chicago has maintained a long and notable commitment to compassionate healing, especially to the poor. Each year the twenty-two Catholic hospitals in the Archdiocese and surrounding counties provide care, both inpatient and outpatient, to nearly 3 million of our region's citizens. In all of this, we are reminded of Pope John Paul II's words during his 1979 visit to America:
Social thinking and social practice inspired by the Gospel must always be marked by
special sensitivity towards those most in distress, those who are extremely poor,
those suffering from all physical, mental and moral ills that afflict humanity.
Despite advances in technology and health care delivery systems, too many people in America do not have regular access to basic health care. In the United States, 44 million people have no health insurance. In Illinois alone, 1.8 million people live without access to health coverage provided by insurance. Approximately 3.18 million Illinois residents, almost one out of three, were uninsured sometime during 2001-2002. Eight out of ten people without health insurance are in working families. Eight and a half million uninsured are in constant jeopardy - they are sicker each day and die younger because they cannot receive preventive and clinical health care.
In view of this crisis, I join many others today in asking for change in our health care system.
SUSTAINING A VISION
God's commandment to protect human life calls us to develop a vision for the care of the sick throughout all of life. Individual people, health care institutions, government, business and society as a whole must work together to care for the mind, the body and spirit of all God's people (Thessalonians 5:23), a society where access to basic health care is available to all.
WHAT MUST WE DO?
I believe legislators at all levels of government need to try again to fashion policies and legislation ensuring access to basic health care for all people. I encourage health care institutions to keep the safety net available until such a change occurs. I ask business leaders to support needed changes. Pastors and parish leaders should assist parishioners in developing greater understanding and knowledge of these issues. By raising our voices collectively, there is a greater chance to bring about the changes needed to provide equal and fair access to basic human health care for all.
In the Gospel story of the Last Judgment, Jesus teaches how we will be judged. "When I will ill you cared for me.I tell you whenever you did this for one of the least important, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:31-46) Jesus' words compel us to hear again those shut out of our current health care systems. I know I am not alone in raising my voice for needed change. I ask others to join us. Through prayer, hard work and trust in God and each other, we can make access to health care a reality for all people of our country.
Pacem in terris, n. 11.
Health and Health Care: A Pastoral Letter of the U.S. Catholic Bishops. 1981 (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1981) IV. B. 3.
Pope John Paul II, Homily at Yankee Stadium , October 2, 1979.
"Cover the Uninsured Week" Website