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Jesuit Bioethics Group Endorses Health Care Reform

The Consortium of Jesuit Bioethics Programs brings together the leadership of major bioethics programs at universities in the United States sponsored by the Society of Jesus, more commonly called the Jesuits. We represent the bioethics programs at the four Jesuit medical schools (Creighton University, Georgetown University, St. Louis University, and Loyola University Chicago) and three major bioethics centers or institutes (Loyola Marymount University, Regis University, and St. Joseph’s University). We began meeting about three years ago in an effort to bring our combined clinical ethics expertise to bear on issues of particular relevance.

The values of our Jesuit universities, sometimes summed up in the phrase, “the service of faith and the promotion of justice,” inform what we consider relevant. Similarly, the foundational values of our Roman Catholic intellectual heritage, such as a concern for those who are separated from the benefits of being part of the community (often called the “preferential option for the poor”) and an interest in the dignity and worth of all human beings, guide our work.

Our group seeks to jointly author one major article each year. Last year we issued a statement on end of life decision-making. This year, we chose to temporarily delay work on our next major article while we issued a statement on insuring the uninsured.

Leaders in Catholic health care, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have long tried to call attention to the injustice of having access to basic health care restricted for so many persons. From the point of view of social justice, requiring that adequate access to medical care be provided, which in our society correlates with having adequate health insurance, is the proverbial “no brainer.” Yet the urgency of this situation seems to be getting drowned out in the current national debate. It is this sense of moral urgency that our statement seeks to restore.

One question with which our group must continually grapple is the language and framework to employ in writing. We can draw on a rich heritage of Roman Catholic social teaching and the many Jesuit contributions to that thought. This can add a distinctive voice and flavor to our efforts. However, that can also risk being misunderstood and dismissed by those do not share in our tradition.

As a result, in our statement on insuring the uninsured, we have spoken in more secular language. As the text makes clear, we believe that the values that should compel action in this instance are widely shared by Americans. While the members of our group may be particularly sensitive to considerations involving the poor and see all people as vulnerable to the chance elements that have disadvantaged them, this concern is widely held in our society.

Our group values consensus among its members. Our statements are credible at least in part because they represent a deep consensus among this group of original thinkers.

We are not arguing that the urgency to insure the uninsured is the only ethical issue in the current health-care debate. Certainly, the debate concerning how to achieve effective cost containment has an ethical dimension bearing on the appropriate stewardship of resources. But this complex problem, which admits of many options but no obvious solution, should not be allowed once again to prevent our society from owning up to our responsibility to insure the uninsured.

Furthermore, of particular interest to those whose values are informed by the Jesuit and Catholic traditions are issues concerning the financing of abortion services and providing access to health care for immigrants. Both of these concerns emanate from our concern for the most vulnerable.

We did not seek to address the issues of financing abortion services and providing access to health care for immigrants because we fear that they will simply be politicized in the effort to again fail to insure the uninsured. This should not be allowed to happen.

We certainly wish that comprehensive legislation that meets the needs of all vulnerable populations was possible. But, we must not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. We believe that it is a morally legitimate approach to remove those issues from the table in an effort to build the consensus necessary to rectify a terrible injustice. Of course, this will require vigilance during the legislative process and good faith by contributors to that process.

Mark G. Kuczewski, PhD, is president of the consortium. Members are Debra Bennett-Woods, EdD, of Regis University; Peter Clark, SJ, PhD, of St. Joseph’s University; James DuBois, PhD, DSc, of St. Louis University; Amy M. Haddad, PhD, of Creighton University; Carol Taylor, RN, PhD, of Georgetown University; and James J. Walter, PhD, of Loyola Marymount University.

Published on: September 10, 2009
Published in: Health Care Reform & Policy

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