Edward Feser on Stupak, the USCCB and Subsidiarity

Pertinent to recent discussions of Stupak and the role of the USCCB in advancing the health care bill, Edward Feser offers his reflections on Bart Stupak, the USCCB and the Catholic principle of subsidiarity:

… before the health care bill vote, the USCCB urged Congress either to alter the bill to prevent federal funding of abortion or to vote the bill down. (The USCCB also objected to the bill’s failure to extend coverage to illegal immigrants.) But the letter in which this request was made also emphasized that “for decades, the United States Catholic bishops have supported universal health care,” that “the Catholic Church teaches that health care is a basic human right, essential for human life and dignity,” and that it is only “with deep regret” that the bishops must oppose passage of the bill “unless these fundamental flaws are remedied” (emphasis added).

Needless to say, the impression these words leave the reader with – whether the bishops intended this or not – is that, were abortion (and coverage of illegal immigrants) not at issue, the moral teaching of the Catholic Church would require the passage of the health care bill in question, or something like it. In fact the teaching of the Church requires no such thing. Indeed, I would argue (see below) that while the Church’s teaching does not rule out in principle a significant federal role in providing health care, a bill like the one that has just passed would be very hard to justify in light of Catholic doctrine, even aside from the abortion question. Nevertheless, as I say, the bishops’ language would surely leave the average reader with the opposite impression. And as the bishops themselves remind us, they have “supported universal health care” for “decades,” in statements that also would leave the unwary average reader with the impression that Catholic moral teaching strictly requires as a matter of justice the passage some sort of federal health care legislation. On the day Obama signed the bill into law, Cardinal Francis George, a bishop with a reputation for orthodoxy, urged vigilance on the matter of abortion while declaring that “we applaud the effort to expand health care to all.”

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9 Responses to Edward Feser on Stupak, the USCCB and Subsidiarity

  • Philippus says:

    I thought I was a voice in the wilderness. Very well written. Much better than I–a simpleton could have written.

    I often wonder, when I pray for my Bishop, Do I ask God to give me the strength to be obedient or do I pray, “Lord save me from my Bishop when he basically flaunts his own personal views as Catholic teaching.”

  • “The government must also see to the provision of insurance facilities, to obviate any likelihood of a citizen’s being unable to maintain a decent standard of living in the event of some misfortune, or greatly increased family responsibilities.” Pacem in Terris 64.

    Federal health care reform ensuring universal coverage was necessary. I too am disappointed with the implementation but I’m still not convinced it necessarily violates subsidiarity (though I personally believe it does in some relatively minor ways).

    The “overreach” may be justified as consumer protection measures which prevent anticipated problems. Few people would consider government health inspections a violation of subsidiarity. It would be possible to write a law that allows individuals to personally inspect sausage factories but that’s impractical. Likewise, some of the supposedly overreaching regulations of ObamaCare restrain individual choice but for a good reason: government is better positioned to make those choices.

    I think maybe a good test of whether something violates subsidiarity is whether it actually harms communities of a lower order. Like I said, I believe ObamaCare does though in relatively minor ways.

    A second question is whether minor infractions against subsidiarity render the entire bill immoral. For example, I think the cap on HSA contributions is too low. It actually harms those who use HSA’s. Would that alone warrant opposition to an otherwise good (for sake of argument) bill?

  • RL says:

    Likewise, some of the supposedly overreaching regulations of ObamaCare restrain individual choice but for a good reason: government is better positioned to make those choices.

    That *could* possibly be the case, but I would argue that a government that considers abortion to be health care, a right, and a HC cost savings measure is patently disqualified to make those choices. Ditto for considering the intentional killing of the disabled as a “family matter”.

  • I wouldn’t consider the government disqualified to make decisions on all matters just because it makes the wrong decision on one matter. Besides, except for when voters want to kill non-voters (abortion and euthanasia), government has a bias in favor of providing more, not less. I find it odd that those who claim the government loves spending too much money also believe the government would like to kill grandma to save money.

  • RL says:

    A wrong decision is one thing, a wrong decision(s) on fundamental matters are another. When most people talk about the government loving to spend money, I think they’re referring to spending as a means of acquiring power and building dependencies to maintain power, coupled with the typical inefficiency and bureaucracies that accompany it.

    As far as killing people or allowing people to be killed to save money. Why not? It gives them power over lives, and as you pointed out, we’re talking about non-voters. Pelosi said abortion coverage would be a cost savings to Obamacare, and I just saw this:

    http://www.creativeminorityreport.com/2010/03/krugman-death-panels-will-save-money.html

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    There’s nothing odd about it. Few claim that the government likes to spend money arbitrarily. It spends too much on things it shouldn’t and not enough on things it should, because of its distorted and often perverse hierarchy of values.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    The thing is that Pelosi and Krugman and the rest of these guys are right. Like I brought up in my column, if you make healthcare the responsibility of the government, then you make a thousand other things the responsibility of the government as well.

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