Health care reform and Catholic social teaching

Commonweal has an interesting article on Catholic critics of health care reform. The principle of subsidiarity, a key tenet of Catholic social teaching, is often conflated with the kind of small- or anti-government rhetoric you sometimes get from the Right. J. Peter Nixon argues that this is a mistake. His conclusion:

Catholic critics of health-care reform may be correct that, according to Catholic social teaching, a “right” to health-care services does not necessarily require those services to be provided by the government. At some point, though, the burden of proof is on the critics to provide a workable alternative. They have largely failed to do that. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the concept of subsidiarity is being employed to mask an antigovernment animus that has little support in the Catholic tradition. There may be other reasons for Catholics to be concerned about aspects of health-care reform, but subsidiarity is not one of them.

Read the rest here.


3 thoughts on “Health care reform and Catholic social teaching

  1. “For the most part, government bodies have operated very much in keeping with the principle of subsidiarity.” (from the article)

    I’m not sure how this would be quantified, but I doubt it is true. Unless all it means is that the principle of subsidiarity is kept whenever the level of government involvement pleases the writer. Which tells us more about the attitudes of the writer than about how many intrusions into health care are around us.

    Examples of things I would imagine violate the principle of subsidiarity would be include prescription drug laws, the link between insurance and employment, and legal mandates as to levels of care (your choice is often all or nothing), among others.

  2. The problem with liberals is that they turn everything into legislation. You have cases where businessfolk are being a complete arse– such as denying coverage on the basis of failure to disclose the “pre-existing condition” of acne– and liberals turn the exclusive focus on this into an issue of regulation, and not one of calling folks to repentance (yes, in the spiritual sense) from sin. Conservatives are worse, because they hate regulation so much that for every evil and cruel practice under the sun, they’ll become apologists for why it ought be the next sacrament.

    I think that you sort of fell into this trap. Conservatives are not acting on any lofty principle here, just whitewashing sin. (Liberals are meanwhile turning spiritual affairs into legislative ones.)

  3. Rick, you raise a good point. I’ve always found the notion of subsidiarity to be a bit nebulous. But I do think the narrower point is true: it’s not the same as what conservatives mean by “small government” (e.g., a Nozick-style nightwatchman state).

    Greg, thanks for commenting. I’m not sure if you mean to say that repentance and spiritual conversion are substitutes for appropriate legislation and regulation, but if so, I don’t agree. The intractability of sin means that the power of law will be necessary to maintain order and promote the good, at least to some extent. This is the essential truth embedded in the Lutheran idea of the “two kingdoms.”

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