Universal Healthcare and Catholic Social Teaching

In 2016, Americans spent an average of $10,345 per person on healthcare. With healthcare affecting people’s lives in so many ways, it can become a very heated and divisive topic. Even among Catholics, our views on access to healthcare can have us disagreeing with each other.

Recently on Go Ask Your Father™, Msgr. Stuart Swetland received an e-mail from a listener who disagreed with Msgr. Swetland’s statement that it is hypocritical to be pro-life but opposed to universal healthcare. The listener declared that universal healthcare was not the answer, and suggested that Msgr. Swetland was basing his ideas on emotionalism and not on the facts.

Msgr. Swetland responded:

“First of all, universal healthcare does not mean government-run healthcare. That’s one way that universal healthcare can be provided, but it isn’t the only way. And it is not my opinion that we must be for universal healthcare. If you share the Catholic faith, you must be for universal healthcare. And as American citizens, we have signed the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, which makes healthcare a right as well.

But just to ground this in Catholic teaching, let me just quote a few of our bishops and popes writing about this. Here is what the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said in their Framework for Comprehensive Healthcare Reform in June of 1993:

Every person has a right to adequate healthcare. This right flows from the sanctity of human life and the dignity that belongs to all human persons who are made in the image and likeness of God.

That is the U.S. bishops, writing as early as 1993, and they keep repeating that position. I have dozens of documents in which they continue to repeat that position.

If you look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, also published in 1993, and you look at paragraph #1908 it says:

The common good requires the social well-being and development of the group itself. Development is the epitome of all social duties. Certainly, it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a family, and so on.

And why is that kind of list in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the sure norm for the teaching of the faith? Well, as early as 1963, in the encyclical letter of Pope St. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, we have the teaching:

But first We must speak of man’s rights. Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which is for social teaching what the Catechism is for doctrinal teaching, also says that it is a human right to basic healthcare.

I could go on and on. But this is one of the things that does frustrate me about some who think they can choose between the social teaching of the Church. These are not optional teachings. And if you’re not for universal healthcare, that means you want some people not to have access to healthcare.  This is an odd position to have if you call yourself pro-life.

Now, I’m not a politician. That is up to individual politicians to figure out, and individual members of a society to figure out, how to make sure that every person has ready access to the basic human right of healthcare. It doesn’t have to be government-run. In fact, I wouldn’t necessarily want it to be fully government-run.

But you can’t say you’re pro-life and not believe in the basic fundamental right to healthcare. This is one of the things that is part of the Catholic Social Teaching. You can’t get mad when politicians dissent on life issues, when you yourself dissent on other Catholic Social Teachings.

It’s part of the Gospel, and it’s a beautiful thing. If only we would live Catholic Social Teaching, it would truly serve the common good.”

Listen to the full discussion below:

Go Ask Your Father airs weekdays at 1:00 p.m. Eastern/10:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio®.

Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.