Published July 21, 2009
As we predicted last week, President Obama is using moral arguments to push through congress at lightning speed his health care reform bill. In every one of his many interviews over the last week, the president has explained his insistence on immediate passage of the bill by referencing his moral imperative to provide health insurance for the cancer patient who today can’t afford basic treatment. He then continues his line of moral argument with an emotional plea for Americans to pressure their representatives to seize the moment and to reject the notion of another forty years of the status quo. He ends the interviews by saying, “This isn’t about me– I have health insurance,” a reiteration of his case that his bill is an apolitical issue of right and wrong.
President Obama is right and smart to talk about ethics in the same breath as health care reform. Notwithstanding the many merits of American health care, merits routinely overlooked and imperiled by our rush to reform, our insurance system is cumbersome and impractical. And increasingly, it is unjust. The government has an obligation to rectify this injustice by protecting citizens from some unscrupulous health insurance companies that gauge their clients and routinely escape payment. As President Obama says, the state also has a moral obligation to use tax dollars to provide basic health care for citizens who are unable to purchase it on their own.
But if there is one thing ethicists and moral theologians agree upon, it is that conditions and circumstances surrounding an ethical issue do matter, and that these indeed can change the moral value of the issue in question. For example, giving money to a poor man may usually be a good thing; but giving it to him when you know he is going to buy a gun and kill his family would be all together evil.