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Right to health care: One working definition

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Ascension Healthcare is a non-profit, Catholic health insurer. Its definition of "Healthcare Ethics" succinctly states an answer to the question, "Is there a right to health care?"

From the perspective of Catholic moral teaching, the "right to health care" for all is not an optional stance. Rather, the right to health care is a human right founded on human dignity and the common good. Considered as such, health care is more than a commodity in so far as it is an essential safeguard of human life and dignity that ought to be provided for and to everyone. This absolute right to health care, however, should not be understood as an unlimited entitlement, but as a right that carries with it corresponding duties regarding justice, stewardship and the common good.

According to this stance, there is a right to health care that aims to preserve human life and dignity. I understand this statement as saying that there is also a duty of patients to cooperate with their health care, which answers Mile Hi Mama's concerns about noncompliance.

Years ago, I read a newspaper story about the undue feeling of entitlement shared by many Americans. The author wrote about a woman she had met who was being treated for infertility. She felt the health care establishment should do whatever it took for her to get pregnant, because that is what she needed to be happy, and the Declaration of Independence gives Americans the right to happiness.

Of course, there is no right to happiness in this world. The Declaration of Independence asserts a right to pursuit of happiness. And theologically, complete happiness is a privilege bought with Christ's blood and available only after death.

Similarly, a right to health care should not be confused with a right to health at all costs, as the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life pointed out three years ago. There cannot be a right to health at all costs because such a right would be at times contrary to the rights of others and to the common good. For example, a person needing a kidney transplant does not have a right to the kidney of a healthy person; it must be freely donated.

I am adopting Ascension Health's statement as my position on the right to health care. It is balanced by considerations of stewardship over available resources and the common good, and it makes good use of Catholic moral reasoning.

Do you agree with Ascension Health's statement? If not, what do you think is wrong with it?

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shopinchic said...
June 4, 2008 at 3:17 PM  

This is such a sticky subject. I mean I believe that everyone has a right to live and to get healthcare
that they need in order to live well. Like in life saving situations.

The woman who said she was "entitled" to get infertility treatment. Not only do I disagree with infertility treatments(simply because it is morally wrong),but if we think along that lines then we should pay for someone's plastic surgery because it makes them "happy".

That said, I don't really want the Government getting involved because
they would put more restrictions on life,health and even family planning.

Anna said...
June 6, 2008 at 4:43 PM  

Ascension Health's statement is probably the best simple statement I've seen yet. By itself, though, I think it is more easily used to justify entitlement attitudes than not, despite the negative mention of such.

Catholic Mom said...
June 9, 2008 at 6:24 PM  

I definitely like the Ascension Health statement. As a physician I have a strong interest in the health care system. I wrote on this topic today. My position is that there is a basic level of care to which each of us is entitled. This basic level is not unlimited. I will be posting more on this topic in the next few days.

RAnn said...
June 14, 2008 at 7:14 PM  

What is basic healthcare? It is easy to say that infertility treatments are a want, not a need. It is easy to say that you can't force someone to donate a kidney for transplant into someone else; but to use the transplant example, when is a kidney transplant "necessary" or "basic health care"? It is easy (I guess, I'm not a doctor) to say that someone's kidney isn't working and that to avoid dialysis, s/he requires a transplant, but do we offer transplants to all who in that catagory who can round up a donor? Does age become a factor? What about previous failed transplants? Whatbout lifestyle choices (if the patient's lifestyle choices were a major cause for the need for a transplant)Who gets to make the decision?

I'm concerned because it seems that much of the increase in our overall medical cost isn't from more expensive doctor visits for sore throats but rather for expensive treatments that didn't exist or were rare years ago such as NICU bills in the hundreds of thousands for babies who would have died quickly and cheaply--and then more bills to deal with the handicapped conditions some of these kids have throughout life or expensive chemo that adds months to lives of cancer patients or even relatively simple things like feeding tubes that allow life (and long-term expensive medical bills) to those in comas or similar conditons.

Ginkgo100 said...
June 16, 2008 at 3:32 PM  


You hit on one of the key reasons for the so-called "health care crisis": As medical technology improves, so does cost. It all started early in the 20th century when medical science made it possible for doctors to give their patients real hope for healing. And hope, unfortunately, is expensive.

It is such a frustrating and hard to solve problem to know how to help the very sick, but to be unable to do it.

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