Opinion: A scream in the health care wilderness

By Terrance R. Kelly

The most important issue today in health care morality is crystal clear. It has nothing to do with birth control insurance coverage for employees of Catholic universities and hospitals, the Catholic hierarchy or Republican presidential candidates.

Several cancer drugs that are the mainstay of treatment regimens used to cure several cancers,
are not being manufactured in sufficient quantities to meet the life-and-death needs of cancer patients. Dr. Michael Link, the president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, states, If you are a pediatric oncologist, you know how to cure 70 to 80 percent of patients. But without these drugs you are out of business. The children will die.

Our present health care system, awash in its anti-socialist, free market, capitalistic principles, has blown a British Petroleum-sized hole in the fragile membrane of U.S. health care. Why are these life-saving drugs not available? Because drug manufacturers can make more money a lot more money manufacturing other drugs.

So guess what? The manufacturers opt to make more money. They produce newer brand-name cancer drugs that do not cure anyone, but just extend life for a few months, at costs of up to $90,000 per patient. Only the older but curative cancer drugs drugs that can cost as little as $3 per dose have become unavailable.

We havent read anything about Catholic-bishop rage over this latest oops moment in health care supply-and-demand capitalism. It appears that the bishops moral indignation is engaged elsewhere, defending a supposed attack upon their finely calibrated collective conscience.

The bishops have taken to arms against women and President Obama, against those who are making War on Catholics and War on religious freedom and the Constitution. That according to those great religious thinkers of the day, Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, Charles Colson and Foster Friess.

As near as one can understand, the bishops heroism is the only thing that stands between the First Amendments protection of the Catholic Churchs right to preach an anti-contraceptive doctrine, and health insurers from providing contraceptive coverage to employees of Catholic universities and hospitals.

Let me modestly suggest that (1) the prohibition of contraceptive birth control is not a viable teaching of the Catholic Church, and (2) the First Amendments religious exercise freedoms do not include a hierarchical shield from the government compelling contraceptive insurance coverage for women.

Catholic teaching, sourced in the bible and in tradition, is not and never has been a fixed collection. Because of its developmental life, the Catholic community no longer presses its kings and governors to murder heretics, no longer considers belief in the Copernican theory of solar movements as heresy, no longer includes charging interest on a loan to be mortal sin its an old religion and there is a long list of discarded teachings.

Development in church doctrine, changes in church doctrine, has seldom been initiated by hierarchical promulgations. Our bishops have not been the type of people who are comfortable saying, We were wrong. They are much more likely to claim, We are not wrong. We are never wrong. We are the church and the church is infallible.

Change in moral doctrine generally bubbles out of the culture, from the people. At some time, it becomes clear that the people have rejected a teaching under those circumstances, slavery becomes an unacceptable human condition, religious liberty is seen as a fundamental right of all humans including heretics, some marriages actually can be dissolved.

The bishops claims for making contraceptive birth control an evil is not believed by the laity. The entire teaching authority of the Church popes, three ecumenical councils, bishops and theologians universally proclaimed and enforced this doctrine. This teaching has gone the way of biblical and episcopal proscriptions that condemned for over 500 years those who would charge interest on a loan. The entire teaching authority of the Church popes, three ecumenical councils, bishops and theologians universally proclaimed and enforced this doctrine.

The birth control teaching has likewise been massively rejected, through the powerful witness of daily lives lived. It has been abandoned de facto, as we say in Latin.

Regarding the bishops constitutional analysis, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The bishops claim that a law requiring health insurers to provide coverage for contraceptive birth control to employees of Catholic universities and hospitals violates the bishops right to freely impose its religious doctrine on employees of all institutions affiliated with the Catholic religion.

We are in an age when the methodologies for interpreting our Constitution are sources of great debate. Invoking the basic fundamentalist interpretive methodology pursuing the original intent of the authors of the Constitution is no help. Post-colonial medical care in the United States did not have much in its reproductive bag, especially for women who were 50 years away from being allowed to vote. The concept of medical insurance, let alone insurance coverage of birth control contraceptives, was unknown. In this present political circus, groping for religious freedom to exercise answers from James Madison is a farce.

Ultimately, we are left to our own communities to determine whether the principles expressed in our Constitutions religious freedom clause repulse President Obamas health care reform provision for assuring free access to contraceptive birth control. We study the question through various lenses factors such as text, context, purpose, results and consequences, history and precedent are often raised by constitutional jurists such as Justice Stephen Breyer.

What is clear is that the connection between the principle of religious freedom and the exemption that Catholic bishops demand is so attenuated, so distant, so stretched as to be logically unsustainable. No one is stopping people from exercising their religion.

In this age, when the parents and caregivers of children suffering from leukemia are being informed that life-giving drugs are not available, it would be appropriate for Catholic religious authorities to shift their focus, to redirect their rage. Such a change is particularly needed in light of the bishops documented prolonged, massive indifference to and the aiding and abetting of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy.

But thats not how things work in the world of the infallible. Galileo did get a papal apology 400 years after he died. And he was a man.

Terrance R. Kelly is Of Counsel to the Denver law firm Lass Moses Ramp, LLC.

Opinions communicated in Solutions represent the view of individual authors, and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado system.