Fraudulent Catholics?

May 12, 2011 at 11:25 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Two of our grandkids (and their parents) live out in western Massachusetts, in a village called Warren, near Springfield. One weekend when we were there I went to Mass at a church the next village over.

It was a pretty amazing experience. Almost everything about the liturgy, except that it was in English, could have taken place in my childhood parish in the 1950s: they even said the prayers at the end of Mass that we used to say before Vatican II, in which, among other things, we prayed to St. Michael the Archangel.

The most stunning part of my one and only visit to that church, however, was a poster in the lobby titled “Fraudulent Catholics,” with the names and photos of sixteen politicians, all Democrats, who had voted for some kind of legislation related to reproductive choice. The ones I remember are John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi–Pelosi whom some consider the most successful Speaker of the House in fifty years for getting the first real expansion of health care passed since the Johnson administration.

Let me be clear: I  can understand disagreeing over political questions. Even claiming that certain actions are against the teachings of the church. The term “fraudulent Catholics” strikes me as a little over the top, though. Besides which, if theses men and women aren’t real Catholics, why should they care what the St.-Michael-lovers out near Sturbridge think?

This brings me to two other Catholics, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Congressman Paul Ryan, who are working like maniacs to do away with the social safety net that US Catholics, including our bishops and politicians, did a lot to get put into place. After all, Catholic immigrants throughout US history have comprised a good percentage of the poor; in some ways, the New Deal was the expansion of the kind of aid  Catholic parishes, Sisters, and machine politicians gave immigrant Catholics before World War II.

As you perhaps know, a group of Catholic professors and leaders have sent a public letter to John Boehner on the occasion of his addressing the graduates at the Catholic University of America, pointing out to him that the budget cuts he advocates in Medicare and Medicaid and other social programs are contrary to Catholic social teaching. I’m delighted that they did this, and proud of them for not descending into the kind of vilification that that poster out in western Massachusetts does.

I wonder, though, whether the current batch of Catholic bishops will show the kind of directness regarding the evisceration of the social safety net that they have shown on the subject of abortion. If Ryan’s proposal to block-grant Medicaid really does pass, thus cutting back massively, for example,on funds that extend nursing home care  for incapacitated elderly Americans whose savings are exhausted, will Ryan’s bishop deny him communion? Or is sex the only thing that merits unambiguous episcopal action?

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Budget Cuts and “Death Panels”

January 2, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Well, the snow is melting, a week after it arrived. There’s nothing like a blizzard to make some of us, at least, grateful for central heating, and here in the Ronan-Russell household, for having finally found a hardware store with a shovel to sell.

But now that the local population has calmed down about the blizzard, I’m afraid the next great cause of popular enragement is headed our way: “death panels.” According to the newspaper of record, on January 1 the  Obama administration established by regulation “end of life” provisions that were so enraging when first proposed that they had to be excised from the health care legislation that finally passed. And even after those end of life provisions were removed, according to the Times, 30% of all Americans over sixty still believed that “Obamacare” stipulated “death panels,” by which they mean that it gives doctors the right to mandate euthanasia for those deemed no longer worthy of living. Never mind that the very need for these new regs refutes their convictions. There’s trouble coming.

Let me first acknowledge that the prospect of being condemned to death, at any age, is a terrifying one. But that such a fear should translate into belief on the part of many, in the face of evidence to the contrary, that the new health care legislation gives the government the power to do so–this deserves a little analysis, don’t you think?

First of all, let’s get clear about what the regulations actually do stipulate: they allow payment to physicians who “advise patients on options about  end of life care,…( including) advance directives to forego aggressive life-sustaining treatment.” A number of people I’ve consulted, including a Catholic RN friend who worked in a hospice for many years, believe that “advance directives” are the only sure way for seriously ill people to protect themselves from being forced to go on living in great discomfort after an otherwise fatal event such as a massive heart attack. People over 70, my friend argues, should have “do not resuscitate” orders.

So why do so many people believe that the new health care law mandates killing them and their friends, when it actually helps them to protect themselves from unnecessary prolonged agony? One explanation might be that here in the US, in contrast to many other democracies, we really do have “death panels,” that is judges and juries who condemn people to death. It’s called the death penalty. Maybe some of us older folk are unconsciously projecting onto the new health care law our knowledge that the government certainly does order people killed, just not privileged white people.

And of course, we have another kind of “death panel” in the US: insurance companies, which regularly decide whether people are allowed to have life-or-death surgery, tests, or treatments. I distinctly recall being coached by an oncologist in San Francisco a few years back about how to get the company that covered me to pay for the regular colonoscopies I needed to prevent the recurrence of the genetically-linked colon cancer that had already killed four close family members. “They’re going to say you need the test every five years,” he said, “so I’ll say you need it every year, and they’ll let you have it every other year.” And that’s what happened.

The third kind of  “death panel” here in the US is the one operated by individual states. Before “Obamacare” these functioned by not providing health care to lots of people who then became seriously ill and died because they weren’t diagnosed until it was too late. And during the economic downturn, according to the Times, almost every state has had to make painful cuts to the Medicaid it does offer. In Arizona, this includes ending Medicaid coverage for heart, liver, lung, pancreas and bone marrow transplants–life-or death procedures–in order to save $1.4 million of the state’s $8.9 billion budget.

So if anyone asks you about US death panels, you can assure them that such things exist and are functioning–but they’re not the kind of death panels that a third of the over-60 set seems to envision. And then perhaps you will join me in praying that “Obamacare” survives the anticipated Congressional onslaught and dismembers as many of these death panels as it can.

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