US Catholic Sisters Urge Health Care Reform

March 18, 2010 at 10:08 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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In the midst of yet another round of dispiriting reports on sex abuse by Catholic clergy, I’m thrilled to report that a large group of US Catholic sisters have spoken out in support of the health care reform bill now before Congress. The letter to Congress,  circulated by Network, the Catholic social justice lobby, is signed by 59 leaders of various women’s religious congregations, including Sister Marlene Weisenbeck, the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). Considering the current Vatican doctrinal investigation of the LCWR for taking just such positions as this one, it’s quite brave of Weisenbeck and the other congregational leaders to send out this message.

According to the letter, the signers represent 59,000 Catholic sisters. You should read it for yourself–it’s short and accessible–but here’s a crucial paragraph:

“The health care bill that has been passed by the Senate and that will be voted on by the House will expand coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans. While it is an imperfect measure, it is a crucial next step in realizing health care for all. It will invest in preventative care. It will bar insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It will make crucial investments in community health centers that largely serve poor women and children. And despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions. It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments – $250 million – in support of pregnant women. This is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.”

A major reason for the current visitations of women’s religious congregations and the investigation of the LCWR, is that Catholic sisters in the US , since Vatican II, have dared to speak for themselves. The LCWR submitted an unsolicited evaluation of the Code of Canon Law to the Vatican as it began revising that code in the 1970s (the sisters assumed, innocently, that their evaluation would be welcomed). Before that, the LCWR changed its name to “Leadership Conference of Women Religious” from “Conference of Major Superiors of Women.” Vatican officials resisted the change strongly; even the heads of women’s congregations, to their mind, are transmitters of church mandates, not “leaders.” 

And now theses women dare to suggest that there are other Catholic positions on health care besides that of the US bishops, and to point out that the bill does not expand abortion coverage.

Thank you, sisters.


October 2, 2009 at 11:50 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I have to confess that there are some things I don’t get about the current uproar over health care reform. 

I admit that the programs being proposed, if any of them pass, will constitute major social change, and will therefore inevitably provoke serious resistance. By the same token, I wonder a bit what’s going on in the minds of a number of us as the debate proceeds. 

To fill you in on the context of my perplexity, perhaps I should say that I recently joined the ranks of America’s “senior citizens.” I turned 62 last spring and began taking Social Security. I am totally amazed that anyone would send me $800 a month without my having earned it. I know, I know, I really did earn it, but it still amazes me that the system works and this money gets deposited in my bank account. I am also fortunate because I have relatively good health insurance through my husband’s job, which is not to say that in our thirteen months in Brooklyn I haven’t already had some classic go-rounds with the anonymous webpage of an insurance company we’re tethered to. 

My husband and I also have three grandchildren, the oldest of whom, Macy Russell Brown, is six years old and lives not far from us here in Brooklyn. Macy is tall and thin and blond and looks like the heroine in a children’s book; she’s also extraordinarily articulate–I’m sure she’ll have her own blog soon. I’m also pleased to report that she has good health insurance through her Mom’s job. 

One day last week I got a brochure from the AARP about health care reform. Since senior citizens are among those most opposed to this reform, the brochure is no doubt needed. It assured us that the proposed legislation does not mandate “death panels” and will not result in the rationing of health care or any cut-backs in Medicare. Given the political climate, it’s crucial that such things are excluded from health care reform. I myself do not favor forcing senior citizens to commit suicide (!)

Anybody with a brain in her head knows, however, that the current system is not workable, that Medicare, for example, is heading into the tank, and that the increasing costs of health care are going to bankrupt the country by and by. In addition, the practice of people expecting every test and treatment known to humankind is not sustainable. In a recent discussion about my 93 year old mother who’s in a nursing home and sleeps all the time, no longer recognizes us, can’t see, can’t hear and can’t walk, a nurse apologized before suggesting that my mother is getting ready to die. When I asked why on earth she was apologizing, the nurse said many families, upon hearing this, would demand that the family member be hospitalized and every measure taken to keep her alive. If this sort of thing is what my fellow senior citizens mean by “no rationing,” it’s hard to imagine what’s going to happen to us all. 

I myself hope that it doesn’t come to the point where medical care I need is denied me. I have a pretty nasty genetic defect that causes abdominal cancers and it is more than possible that I will need many of the bells and whistles of American health care to keep me alive as long as Americans are accustomed to living these days. But if my receiving that treatment meant that our granddaughter Macy wouldn’t get the care she needs at her much younger age, I like to think I wouldn’t hesitate. And the way things are going, there may well not be the resources left over for her if I get everything I need, or think I need. Indeed, a lot of little girls not so different from Macy aren’t getting the care they need right now. 

If what “rationing” really means is facing up to the fact that resources are limited, and that younger people need to get basic health care before the elderly get treatments like open-heart surgery, organ transplants, or stem cell therapy, maybe we need to give “rationing” a second thought.

Drinking Water as a Pro-Life Issue

August 27, 2009 at 11:41 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Commentators have been raising questions lately about the commitment, or lack thereof, of American religious leaders–and particularly the American Catholic bishops–to the current effort to reform American health care. Frances Kissling finds the bishops’ preoccupation with abortion, rather than with wider aspects of health care, troubling.

Readers will have their own thoughts about whether “abortion neutrality,” as the bishops phrase it, should be a health-care-reform deal-breaker. But the bishops may need to be reminded that  there’s nothing simple or uncomplicated about being “pro-life,” as a recent New York Times  article, “Debating Just How Much Week Killer is Safe in Your Water Glass,” illustrates.

According to author Charles Duhigg, research in recent years has suggested that the weed killer atrazine, used widely by farmers, lawn care workers, and gardeners, is dangerous at much lower concentrations than has been previously believed. And levels of atrazine have been found to be spiking in drinking water supplies around the country.

What exactly is the problem with this? As Duhigg reports, 

“In recent years, five epidemiological studies published in peer-reviewed journals have found evidence suggesting that small amounts of atrazine in drinking water, including levels considered safe by federal standards, may be associated with birth defects, including including skull and facial deformations and misshapen limbs–as well as low birth weights in newborns and premature births.”

And defects and premature births, Duhigg goes on to say, “are leading causes of infant deaths.” Moreover, as the concentration of atrazine in the water rises, the incidence of birth defects are believed to grow.

But despite these studies, the Environmental Protection Agency has denied that Americans are being exposed to unsafe levels of atrazine, and that regulations concerning  atrazine are adequate to protect human health. A study of the EPA by the Pew Charitable trusts argues, however, that the EPA has been working with weak laws and that needed research at the agency is seriously underfunded; another problem is “institutional inertia” against change. In the meantime, an estimated thirty-three million Americans have been exposed to atrazine in their tap water. And those who would argue that the research is not conclusive–since testing pesticides on pregnant women is unethical–need to know that atrazine is already banned in the European Union.

Nowhere does the Times article directly connect the increase in fetus-harming, infant-killing atrazine in US tapwater and the policies of the previous administration, but it’s not hard for the reader to make that connection. Stephen A. Owens, the recently confirmed new assistant EPA administrator for prevention, pesticides and toxic substances has said that atrazine is one of the substances the agency will now be taking a hard look at.

This brings us back to the bishops.  When they oppose the Obama administration for its position on “life,”–when my own bishop here in Brooklyn tells members of the diocese they can’t be faithful Catholics and support President Obama–precisely which fetuses do they think they’re protecting?

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