quite obvious…that it’s always easier to keep the status quo, especially if
it doesn’t affect us… It’s really quite obvious…that there is a problem
with the provision of a basic human right in our country: adequate
health care. It’s really quite obvious…that Jesus calls us to
recognize that all people are our neighbors and we, in living out our
faith, must be involved in caring for them.
Delivered on September 17, 2006 at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Peoria, IL in observation of Illinois’ Healthcare Sabbath, a statewide initiative of the Campaign for Better Health Care's Faith Caucus to focus congregations on the moral imperative to reform our health care system It features Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 as well as Luke 10:25-37.
Today has been designated as Health Care Justice Sabbath. To get us thinking about some of the justice issues in Health care, I will begin with a couple of stories.While serving as an Oncology counselor at a hospital in Texas in the mid 1980’s, I spent much of my time in the office interacting with patients from diagnosis through treatment and often, unfortunately, through death. I remember distinctly a hot, humid Texas afternoon when the primary doctor, who had been seeing a woman patient for the first time, cam out and told me he wanted me to come in to the room. That didn’t happen very often, and so I was quite curious about his reasoning.
As we walked into the room there sat a middle-aged woman who looked older than her age, very timid, her head down. She answered the doctor’s questions in almost a whisper, her grammar was quite poor bespeaking of a life of little education. The doctor said, please show me your breast again so that I can have Anna look at it. As she slowly moved aside her gown, both the sight and the smell were ghastly. Her breast had an open, ulcerated tumor growing out of it. The Dr. asked the patient why she hadn’t sought treatment earlier. Her reply, “I don’t have any insurance. I thought it might just be an infection so I treated it with Witch Hazel and Peroxide”. The Dr. explained, once we were outside of the room, that the pain must be excruciating and that he had never seen breast cancer that advanced outside of the body. Unfortunately, he added, it was highly likely, given the advanced stage, that the cancer had spread to other parts of her body and she would not survive. He was correct on both accounts. Fast forward to another state and about a decade later…
As I was leaving the hospital one evening after a 36-hour stint during my year in Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Methodist, I was approached by a woman with two children in tow outside of the Emergency Room. I was irritated because I was really quite tired and just wanted to go home. She asked if I could give her money to catch a cab back to one of the housing project on the south side of Peoria. She normally takes the bus, she explained, but the buses had stopped running for the day and she and her kids needed to get home.
As she motioned to her kids, I noticed that her daughter, about age 9, had a hugely swollen jaw and tears were rolling down her cheek. I asked the mother what was the matter. She said that her daughter had an infected tooth. She had no insurance so had to wait until it was severe enough to come to the Emergency Room. They gave her antibiotics and a prescription for pain medication until she could get in to the one and only dentist in town that treated the indigent. She couldn’t afford the pain medication. And now, they were stranded at the hospital and it was dark. I went in to security and arranged for them to call a cab and paid for the fare. But I left them feeling that the whole situation was really wrong.
I could fast forward another decade to 2006 and give you any number of heartbreaking stories of the plight of the uninsured and underinsured right here in Peoria. The calls to the cell phone I carry for the church to cover emergencies from, no members, but desperate people seeking assistance to purchase necessary medications to treat a child’s asthma or a spouses psychiatric problem. The countless people who come to our food pantry who clearly are aged well beyond their years, in apart due to the lack of preventive care or care for chronic conditions.
The statistics are really quite daunting:
Uninsured Americans are 3.6 times more likely to die in the hospital than those with insurance.
Those with chronic conditions are less likely to have regular checkups and thus have worse outcomes than their insured counterparts.
Uninsured children and adults are 30% less likely to receive preventative care, increasing the likelihood that they will be diagnosed with advanced conditions and earlier death.
Uninsured women with breast cancer are 30-50% more likely to die than women who have insurance.
8 out of 10 of the uninsured are workers and members of working families.
We have, in the United States, some of the most advance and best health care available in the world. Here sitting in this room are doctors, nurses, health care providers and hospital employees who represent that excellence. Yet, the overall United States health care performance was ranked 37th by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1997, far below the average of developed nations. One main reason is due to the lack of health care coverage for all people and the resulting decline in their health overall.
There is, quite obviously, a problem. However, for the most part, it is not OUR problem…meaning, those of us gathered in this sanctuary this morning…OUR, meaning, those of us with a middle to upper middle to wealthy standard of living. Because, most of us, have never had to worry about receiving good health care, preventative care, surgery whenever we needed it or, in some instances, wanted it, and treatment for any and all diseases which might affect our lives. It is not OUR problem. And, after all, Jesus himself, some 20 centuries ago said, “The poor will always be with you.” This is just the reality of which Jesus spoke, is it not?
Jesus also told a story… “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell in to the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead…” This is the story Jesus tells to the lawyer who comes to him wanting a quick and easy answer to faith. He, in the first instance, rightly answers the question Jesus asks him, reciting the law, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, an with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ But, the lawyer is concerned about the detail, he wants further definition, asking, ”So, define neighbor.”
As the story unfolds, we know that by every legal definition, the half dead man lying beside the road is not the lawyer’s neighbor. He doesn’t even know the man. This traveler… was obviously a reckless and foolhardy character. People seldom attempted the Jerusalem to Jericho road alone due to the inherent dangers. This man had no one but himself to blame for the plight in which he found himself. Besides that, he is potentially dead and therefore would defile anyone who touched him. He could simply be a decoy used by the thieves who prowled the road to entice someone to stop and make themselves vulnerable to attack. Indeed, Jesus visits the possible scenarios with the description of the priest and the Levite who happen upon him and pass by on the other side rather than stop and render aid.
Indeed, the one who does stop is the least likely, the Samaritan. And he not only stops, this man, the Samaritan, delayed his own journey, expended great energy, risked danger to himself, spent two days’ wages with the assurance of more, and promised to follow up on his activity was ceremonially unclean, socially an outcast, and religiously a heretic.Although the lawyer, in the end, answers his own question, “Who is my neighbor?” and does so accurately, Jesus’ response is not gushing affirmation, he does not commend him for being so wise. Having right answers does not mean one knows God. Indeed, Jesus’ response to the lawyer is literally, “Go you and do likewise, do the same.”
“Go you and do likewise.” What does this really mean? Well it’s really quite clear…really quite obvious. Treat the stranger, the one in need, the victim, the one who cannot help or take care of themselves, the vulnerable one, as the Samaritan did and NOT as the others did. As a “need waiting to be addressed. It is OUR neighbor who stands outside the hospital doors…. It is OUR neighbor who dies from curable diseases… It is OUR neighbor who suffers needlessly for want of basic medicines… It is OUR neighbor whose life is cut short for lack of preventative care.
In spite of all the injustices Martin Luther King, Jr. dealt with, he said, “Of all the forms of inequalities, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane. “The wisdom writer of Proverbs reminds us: “do not rob the poor because they are poor or crush the afflicted at the gate: for the Lord pleads their cause.” He also wrote that a good name is better than riches. Well, the good name of these United States is in jeopardy when it can be said that we don’t care for the least in our midst.
In the state of Illinois, there is work being done on offering an alternative to the way we provide health care coverage today. The Campaign for Better Health Care needs the support of all of us as they seek a better way, a different way to provide health care to all people, beginning with the state. Contact your state representatives and senators and make sure they know that you think that adequate health care is a basic human right and that it is important to seek alternatives to the present system.
It’s really quite obvious…it’s always easier to keep the status quo, especially if it doesn’t effect us… It’s really quite obvious…that there is a problem with the provision of a basic human right in our country, adequate health care. It’s really quite obvious…that Jesus calls us to recognize that all people are our neighbors and we, in living out our faith, must be involved in caring for them.
Jesus said, “Go you and do likewise.” It’s really quite obvious…isn’t it!