Talking about Health Care as a Moral Value
Written by Rev. Linda Hanna Walling
The moral test of a society is how that society treats
Public discourse on moral values took center stage in the last election. Pollsters even tell us that, for many people, perspectives on moral values trumped numerous other issues in influencing how people voted. Unfortunately, most of the discussion focused on just two issues: same-sex marriage and abortion. Little was said about placing moral values at the heart of the other critical debates over war, joblessness, education, the environment and health care. As a result, the election served as a wake-up call for progressives to publicly profess that they believe in moral values, too – values that promote and protect a quality of life for individuals and families, values that affirm diversity and reject exclusion, values that protect our resources and distribute them responsibly and fairly, values that reach out to the most vulnerable among us to lighten their load.
For those in the health care justice movement, it is clear that among the many challenges ahead is the need to talk about health care in the language of values – a task that will call us beyond our usual comfort zones for communication. While social progressives live and work within a moral universe, and even talk about ethical and moral behavior within our own circles, what we hold dear does not resonate publicly as “moral values.” We are now observing the power that is present in the language of moral values, and recognize the need to claim that language for advancing our goals.
The difficulty in using moral values language is that it often has been co-opted to polarize debate by clearly defining what is right and what is wrong. A more helpful approach is to take the “moral test” for our society – to ask and answer the difficult questions that can guide our reflection about health care reform.
Remembering our most vulnerable populations – the children, the elderly, the sick, the impoverished, the differently-abled:
Who is included… or… the more important question: Who is excluded?
Reflecting on the economic realities of U.S. health care:
Who pays… or… Who pays the most in proportion to their ability to pay?
Who profits… or… Who profits at the expense of those who cannot pay?
Recognizing the political processes necessary for reform:
Whose voices are being heard… or… Whose voices are not being heard
Our country’s religious community will play a vital role in focusing the dialogue on health care as a moral value, but not for the usual reasons. We readily associate people of faith with the talk about morality, and rightfully so. But people of faith will have a much greater responsibilities as we move forward.
Educate. Wide-spread grassroots education will be integral to fully understanding the challenges, the myths, and the injustices that characterize U.S. health care. Faith communities are especially suited to enable that process as diverse cross-sections of the population gather regularly to dialogue with one another.
Advocate. The faith community as a whole supports affordable health care for all and many groups have worked actively for reform over the years. Advocacy – speaking on behalf of those without a voice – and faith-based public witness are natural allies. When communities are in crisis, faith leaders are among those called into leadership. Our country is crisis and it’s time for voices of faith to lead in proclaiming health care as a moral value.
Build bridges. Few groups in our country represent the political and ideological diversity that is present in our communities of faith. Each week, people of very different political and ideological beliefs gather to worship and discover truth together. In these communities of shared moral values, bridges can be built that transcend the dividing halls of Congress.
Offer hope. People of faith are especially suited to offer hope for positive change – even in difficult times. In many faith traditions, the desert experience is not one of moaning and wailing about current trials, but a time for preparation and transformation for what’s ahead. In these desert times, voices of faith, united with all those seeking justice, are called to unleash the moral message of affordable health care for all and move the reform agenda forward.
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Excerpts from Rev. Walling’s workshop presentation “Health Care Is a Progressive Moral Value” at the Families USA Conference, January 2005.