The Catholic Church’s social teaching is erected on the belief in the basic dignity of the human person. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church is replete with references to human dignity with regard to social, political, and economic life. The encyclical Pacem in Terris by Pope John XXIII provided a catalog of the natural rights of man, including the right to medical care as part of a more encompassing right to life. The concern about human dignity and making the right to medical care a reality for everyone no doubt prompted the USCCB to support the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), at least absent its requirements to cover contraception, sterilizations, and abortifacients. The much-heightened centralized control over health care heralded by Obamacare is troublesome in light of the basic principle of subsidiarity, but perhaps the USCCB thought it could be justified because of these other considerations. Will the ACA truly make medical care more readily available or will it—is it already—offending human dignity?
Perhaps the central problem of American health care has been cost. The rationale justifying the ACA—as the law’s name suggests—was to make health care affordable. As we witness the rising—indeed, sharply rising—premiums confronting many Americans, it looks like the opposite is occurring.
To be sure, Obamacare promises to subvert human dignity in significant ways. Its mandating and subsidizing abortifacients—the killing of the unborn—is the ultimate affront to human dignity. Contraception and sterilization undermine human dignity by subverting the ends of the sexual faculty and of marriage. The ensuing harm done to families—consider the corresponding rise of children born outside of marriage and marital breakdown, which the easy availability of contraception has stimulated—undermines the dignity of offspring by depriving them of their right (stressed by Pope John Paul II) to an intact family. By mandating that insurance plans cover these practices, it cannot help but to increase their incidence and to undermine the dignity of many more persons.
All this is even apart from the assault on human dignity by the HHS mandate that requires Catholics and other conscientious objectors to contribute by their insurance premiums to these immoral practices. The ACA, then, violates what John Paul II called two of the most basic human rights, to life and religious freedom (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis #33).
The continuing increase of the cost of Obamacare over time, as projected by the Congressional Budget Office and as experienced by virtually every entitlement program, is almost certain—especially in an anti-life culture—to result in the rationing of care. Indeed, the nature of the Independent Payment Advisory Board right in the law suggests this. So, the human dignity of the elderly and the chronically infirm will be imperiled. It is likely to accelerate demands for legalizing physician-assisted suicide, a right of health care institutions to withhold care irrespective of the wishes of patients’ families, and other forms of euthanasia.
While some scoffed at Sarah Palin’s comment about death panels, defenders of the law, like Paul Krugman, Steven Rattner, and Howard Dean, have admitted that it’s likely.
Human dignity can be offended in less obvious and dramatic ways, however. There doesn’t have to be an assault on basic human rights. Pacem in Terris says that human rights are rooted in that fact that man is a rational creature “endowed with intelligence and free will’ (#9), and the Christian knows that freedom is at the heart of man’s dignity. The social encyclicals resound with the theme that insuring human dignity requires a condition of adequate temporal well-being. Man’s dignity also requires protecting his privacy, rightly understood. So, we have the seal of confession, the moral requirement of not divulging private information without a grave reason, and the need to respect the domain of personal and family privacy. Another part of human dignity involves telling people the truth, including in their role as citizens. Among the rights listed in