A Plea for Christlike Compassion in Health Care

My very caring and sensitive PhD student, who writes outstandingly well, and whose special focus is on children at risk, has spent several years teaching poor children at Wayside Christian Mission in Louisville, Kentucky, and teaching in Korea and the Philippines. Her calling is to teach as a missionary in Asia. She has completed most of her seminars and is now focusing all her time on studying for her comprehensive exams-a strenuous and demanding process. (Most all doctoral students take a quarter or more off from seminars so they can study for the comprehensive exams.) But that means she is not covered by Fuller Seminary's health insurance policy, since she didn't register for a seminar. Now she very much needs some medical attention; if she doesn't get it, she may not be able to take the exams. Then she won't be able to register next quarter, and again she will have no health insurance. I am worried about her health, and about her exams.

I have had other students who had no health insurance, and were not getting the medical treatment they needed. When they told me their stories, I was moved to compassion.

Our own son is handicapped. He does not earn enough money to buy his own health insurance, but has earned too much to be eligible for Medicare. We appealed to Aetna, which insures seminary faculty, to allow him to be covered as a dependent, even though he is over the 18-year cutoff age. So far, they have agreed to let us pay them to insure him. But if he gets sick, will they then say he is above age and cut him off?

That is exactly what the same company, Aetna, did to my predecessor's wife at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary when she got cancer. Helen Barnette had to go through the pain and suffering of dying from cancer with no health insurance, despite the fact that she and her husband had paid for insurance for years while she was healthy. Insurance companies often cut people off when they get sick, to increase their profits.

Like any small business, Fuller Seminary is badly squeezed by rising health insurance costs. It is switching to another company. We have appealed for the new company to cover David, but so far have not heard. Even if they decide to accept our money, will they cut him off if he gets sick?

This is a personal plea, not a detached academic ethical analysis. About 45 million Americans have no health insurance, and many others are losing theirs when they lose their jobs, or when their companies decide they cannot afford the rapidly rising costs of health insurance. This is a plea for compassion for my students, for my son, and for millions of others.

Two blind men cried out to Jesus to heal them. "Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes," and healed them (Matthew 20:34). Jesus regularly had compassion for the sick, and healed them. This is a plea for Christians to follow Jesus and have compassion on those who need healing.

The cost per person for medical care in the United States is twice that of Austria's, England's, and Canada's, and four times Japan's. Yet their infant mortality rate is only half of ours, and their life expectancy is four years higher than ours. With such high costs charged by insurance companies, it is hard for U.S. businesses to compete with other nations.

It is estimated that 100,000 die each year because they could not afford preventive care. Anthem Blue Cross in California announced they are raising their rates 39%, while ten of their executives are each making over $1 million a year. They make more profits by cutting people off when they get seriously sick. I worry for our son, David. We are talking with a legal expert on special needs trusts, and she says we should do all we can to get David on Medicare, because the government insurance is much better than private insurance. We are trying.

We are prolife, not only in word but in deed. You can see this from our brain-damaged and legally blind son, whose condition resulted from my wife's German measles when she was pregnant. Instead of having an abortion, we have devoted ourselves to raising him and supporting him. We know that most women who have an abortion say they are motivated by worry they cannot afford to raise a baby. If they do not have health insurance, that worry surely increases. Abortion rates are much higher among the poor. Timothy Jost of Washington and Lee Law School, who has 30 years of health policy experience and wrote the most widely used book on health law at law schools nationwide, has analyzed the Senate law currently before Congress, and says it clearly prohibits using government money to fund abortions. But more important, the availability of health insurance will help persuade many women they can afford to have their babies. Thus the law will reduce the number of abortions.

Some object that the health care reform proposal means a government takeover. I resent those who are giving us such ideological misinformation. The law will actually increase the business for private insurance companies. The government will pay part of the private insurance bill for many individuals, thus reducing people's costs while increasing private insurance company business.

Does our country stand for human rights for all? "With liberty and justice for all." I hope so. Is the right to life a human right? We know so. "All are created in the image of God." Is health care important for guarding the right to life? We all know so.

Jesus had compassion. Can we do any differently?

Glen H. Stassen is Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.

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