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Is Health Care A Moral Imperative?

By Harris Sherline

September 28, 2009

In June 2009, President Obama said that providing Americans with affordable health insurance is "an economic imperative, but it's also a moral imperative." ??Immanuel Kant defined moral imperative as a principle that compels that person to act, saying that it's a kind of categorical imperative. Kant viewed the imperative as a dictate of pure reason. Not following the moral law was seen to be self-defeating and thus contrary to reason. Later thinkers took the imperative to originate in conscience, as the divine voice speaking through the human spirit. The dictates of conscience are simply right and often resist further justification. Looked at another way, the experience of conscience is the basic experience of encountering the right.

The idea that providing affordable health care is a moral imperative raises a number of questions: At what cost or regardless of the cost? Are there other moral imperatives that are of equal importance to society, say food, clothing, shelter (housing) or education?

After all, we can't or shouldn't allow people to go hungry or sleep on the streets, right? How about transportation? Should the society at large provide free transportation for everyone, say bus or subway fares, or should the government give a car to everyone who "needs" one, including the cost of maintenance and insurance?

At a September 10 interfaith meeting in Tampa, spiritual leaders from a number of denominations, including Episcopal, Jewish, Islamic, Metropolitan Community Church, Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ, united to advocate for health care reform as a moral imperative. The Rev. Leddy Hammock stated, "If anyone is vulnerable to suffering, we are all vulnerable, we all suffer. For the sake of our common humanity, let us call upon our collective intelligence to create a health care system that is inclusive, affordable, accessible, and accountable." (Unfortunately, the terms, "affordable, accessible and accountable" are all subjective. They can mean almost anything to anyone at any point in time.)

The meeting concluded with the following statement: "We, the undersigned, serve several religious and spiritual communities across the Tampa Bay. Our faith traditions teach us that care and compassion for the sick and injured is a basic human responsibility rooted in the foundational principle of affirming human worth and dignity. We believe that the crisis of American health care is not merely an economic or social or political problem -- it is a moral problem that confronts us all. As people of faith, we envision a society where each person is afforded human dignity, health, and wholeness."

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