30 November 2009

From Deserving to Undeserving

Here is a story about John from Oregon in the New York Times. Hat tip to Steve Manskar via Facebook for this article.

Articles about individuals and families very much like John's have been appearing in our local newspapers here in Northeast Ohio almost daily. In a region that never really recovered from the demise of heavy industry, thousands of skilled laborers and professionals are out of work in this region or they are under-employed at 30-hour/week minimum wage jobs with no benefits. (When I participated in a group interview for such a job, there were a dozen of us: one young man in High School, one other woman with over 25 years experience in retail and the rest were men in their 40s, about half of whom had previously had professional jobs.)

Now, I've read a number of blog posts and comments on blogs about how God thinks that a Federal healthcare safety net is "stealing" if that safety net is funded by taxes. This point of view seems to emphasize the free will of individuals to give charitably as being of first-order ethical importance which trumps any notion of the collective good of society.

The admonition coming from this point of view seems to be: Your health has no intrinsic worth and if you cannot pay for healthcare, you don't deserve to have it. Wanting healthcare that you can't afford is of the same order of selfishness as wanting an iPod or a car that you can't afford. If you are truly a Christian person, you will trust in God for his will vis a vis your health. And maybe some part of the Church Universal will decide to throw a bit of charity your way; because, of course, Christians should be giving to others (but if we can't do it with a cheerful heart then God will understand if we don't give). One blog commentator even claimed that his Christian faith only obliged him to give to people he knew.

So for all of you who believe that giving should be from individual to individual (or from small group to individuals) and that giving should always be at the discretion of the giver, here are my questions:

1) How is the church's small-scale, and sporadic (read "unreliable") giving going to help John and millions of others like him? Pot roasts are not going to help John a lot nor is a $100 or $500 or even a $1000 charitable contribution.

2) Can you really look John in the eye as well as other individuals who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and tell them "You do not deserve healthcare"? Did John deserve healthcare when he was a healthy, working 21 year old but now he dosn't? Why? What changed his ontology from "deserving" to "undeserving"?

3) For those who are pastors and who are comparing John's need for healthcare to coveting an iPod or a car that he cannot afford, do you really look your parishioners in the eye and tell them that their desire for decent healthcare is morally equivalent in the eyes of God to lusting after a consumer gadget or a toy?

I do appreciate that there are many people who think that healthcare needs reforming and who believe that the Federal government would make a mess of reform and that this is the reason they oppose a Federal option for healthcare. That's a fair enough point of view.

But I really wonder how a Christian can look another human being in the eye and tell him that his health has no intrinsic human worth to himself or to society, that he doesn't deserve healthcare, and that asking for society to take a collective interest in his health is tantamount to stealing. I'll confess that it's incredibly difficult not to wish that such people would find themselves in the shoes of people who have suffered bad luck and bad health through no fault of their own. Not so that they would suffer, but so that they would understand.


Sarah McGiverin said...

Oh, the U.S. is all upside-down. We think we are a Christian nation, but we don't have a sense of God having ownership of all things. As Gandalf had to remind Denethor, we are stewards only! We don't want to face up to the possibility that there might be some injustice in some people having 2 houses while other people have to choose between food and medicine. Because, you know, guaranteeing that basic human needs would be met would be communist, and while we may have heard that God wants us to share, we know that God does not want communism, so if sharing means communism, then God does not want us to share! Wow. How brainwashed can we get?

Jonathan Bartlett said...

There are several problems I see:

1) ANY TIME IN HISTORY when government has intervened on setting the price of something, it leads to shortages and/or rationing. I can't think of a single case where this is not true. That's why people from overseas come here - our health care is not rationed.

2) A government takeover of health care WILL NOT make it cheaper - it will make it more expensive, which means that there will either be less of it to go around, or it will cost everyone more.

3) As for whether or not the Church can provide for exceptional needs, here's the deal - that's no different than insurance. If your congregation or denomination can't afford it, then NEITHER CAN INSURANCE, and, likewise, NEITHER CAN THE GOVERNMENT. The government doesn't make production from nothing - it comes from people - the same people in the pew.

4) The problem of healthcare costs is actually from the government getting involved in the first place. For instance, there is NO REASON WHATSOEVER that it takes an optometrist to write prescriptions for glasses, except that it maintains a monopoly. Likewise, there is NO REASON WHATSOEVER why a nurse can't operate on his/her own to do basic medical care.

5) The one thing that the government _can_ do to lower costs, is to reform the judicial system. If you think _our_ insurance is expensive, you should see what the doctors pay for malpractice insurance. Most OBGYNs pay about $300,000 PER YEAR for malpractice insurance. Until recently, in Oklahoma (where I live), it was impossible for a doctor to treat someone for free because of the liability problems.

Most of the problems in health care are because of government intervention, lawyers, or social problems. Getting the gov. involved will actuall exacerbate the problem, not make it better.