Yesterday was a happy day. It was the day that the Affordable Care Act was found to be constitutional. It means that 33 million people who are currently left out in the cold will receive insurance. It means countless more millions will not suffer and face financial ruin simply because they have the misfortune of falling sick in one of the world’s richest countries. It was a victory for common decency, for the basic caritas that underpins the Catholic faith.
And yet when I see the unhinged reaction from the right, I almost feel sick. To them, the country is being destroyed and freedom is being snuffed out simply because people are called upon to bear responsibility for their own health care costs, by not imposing the consequences of their selfishness upon society as a whole, and in doing so, allowing all to enter the door of affordable healthcare. Pro omnibus et singulus. It’s that simple.
So why the hatred and vitriol? I confess, I cannot understand it. Then again, there are many aspects of American liberalism that I find poisonous and incomprehensible – the gun culture comes to mind. To me, it seems like the cult of individualism run amuck – the old poisoned spring of the evil individualist spirit twinned with a dose of cold Calvinist personal responsibility. I think Jonathan Chait really hits the nail on the head when he notes that the basic question is “whether access to basic medical care ought to be considered a right or something that is earned”. It’s clear where the Catholic Church stands on this. But the Republican position is that the iron law of the market should include denial of access to non-emergency medical treatment.
This is about real people, real suffering, real tragedy. In a stark piece, Atul Gawande calls some of his doctor friends around the country and asks for examples of great suffering under this horrible healthcare system. Reading it will bring a tear to your eye, and it will also make you angry. People who cannot afford treatment for cancers or other life threatening conditions, and sit helplessly while they deteriorate. People treated for heart attacks and ruined by the bills they receive afterwards. And don’t forget the huge crowds that show up every time free health care is on offer – again, in one of the world’s wealthiest countries.
Catholics are personalists. Everything begins and ends with the dignity of our fellow human beings, and we will be called to account for how we treated one another in this life, especially the least among us. This underpins our faith. It underpins everything we believe, and everything we do. But you would not know this from a quick glance over what passes for the American Catholic right – it’s all venom against John Roberts, vows to work as hard as possible to repeal Obamacare, and cries about lost liberties and freedom. Just look at here and here. Depravity in action.
Yes, Catholics can and should disagree on how best to put principle into practice – in this case, the practical methods of attaining universal health. We need a healthy debate over the issues, not the slogans. But we should not forget a simple truth – the Affordable Care Act will solve these basic problems. None of the Republican alternatives take even one baby step in the right direction. They are not supposed to – and that’s the point.
In this worldview, it is perfectly fine to sacrifice innocent people to the false God of individual autonomy. It is perfectly line to crucify innocent people on the cross of individual freedom. That some of our fellow Catholics join in this false crusade is wicked and almost demonic. It is about as anti-life as you can get.