We've moved!

Check out our new site at
and be sure to update your bookmarks.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Faith-Based Call for Health Care Reform

FROM RABBI RICHARD ADDRESS, UNION FOR REFORM JUDAISM: In his satirical novel Boomsday, Christopher Buckley creates a scenario of the not too distant future in which, given the rush of baby boomers into Medicare and Social Security, the government develops a unique program to save money. They offer a two-week, all-expense-paid “honeymoon” to anyone—as long as these same people, upon turning 65, agree to kill themselves.
In reality, access to health care is no joke; it’s one of the major issues confronting our society today. And the religious community is beginning to turn its attention toward creating a faith-based dialogue.
Last weekend in Columbus, Ohio, I spoke about this issue—from the Jewish perspective—during a panel discussion at the Islamic Society of North America annual convention. Islamic and Christian speakers also shared the approach their faith traditions take to the issue of equality of access. We didn’t emphasize political positions, but instead based our talks on classic texts that mandated the care of the poor, the right to equal access, the importance of health, and the care of the body.
The “mood” of the Jewish tradition is to favor the idea that society should provide equal access to basic health care to all citizens. In part, this feeling is drawn from a concept of justice (the Hebrew term t’zedek or t’zedkah) and often springs from the belief that all people are created equal, in God’s image. We are mandated to create a society that puts all people on an equal footing.
Yet Jewish tradition also understands that “rationing” takes place in the real world; there are rising co-pays, limits on the time that can be spent with a doctor. There is even discussion within the tradition of a hierarchy of access that would place those who contribute to their health’s decline—those who insist on smoking, for example, or abuse drugs—on the bottom.
It’s important to note, however, that those who are without insurance or adequate health care are alone, cut off from good health and support, and in Genesis, we are commanded that it is not good to be alone; the Hebrew word for this concept is l’vado. A society that allows so many citizens to be alone, without, cut off from access, is a society that courts internal chaos. In a sense, people’s “alone-ness” allows them to be besieged by the threat of illness. It is the community’s challenge, and responsibility, to remove those threats and that fear by providing a basic level of support and care.
The stance of each religion—which all favor a program of equal access—comes face to face with the challenges of resource allocation. All are aware that there is a finite amount of money and that health care, like it or not, may have to compete with money for schools or a crumbling infrastructure. Society at large may have to face the prospect of increased taxes to fund the ideal of universal access—and that goes against the grain, to some degree, of our American ethic of individuality and autonomy. Yet if we approach this issue from the perspective of faith, regardless of the faith tradition, it will allow us to see that the good of the society at large must take precedence over the needs of the individual.

Rabbi Richard Address, director of the Department of Jewish Family Concerns for the Union for Reform Judaism, will regularly share his work and thoughts on science, religion, and aging.