LOPEZ: How can Catholic health care learn from Catholic higher education?
NELSON: The secularization of Catholic higher education provides an example of what happens to Catholic institutions that are willing to deemphasize their Catholic identity in exchange for access to public financing and broader acceptance among elites. Fortunately, there is nothing equivalent to the Land O’ Lakes Declaration in Catholic health care. One major difference between higher education and health care is the presence of the ERDs. They provide a relatively clear normative framework for Catholic health-care organizations that can be enforced by the local bishop.
LOPEZ: Could Catholic health care actually do it right, unlike much of Catholic higher education?
NELSON: It is possible. Thus far, Catholic health-care organizations have for the most part continued to adhere to the ERDs. Although the numbers of religious working in Catholic health-care organizations has drastically declined, there have been concerted efforts to provide formation to lay employees to continue the mission of the founding order. It is too soon to tell whether those efforts will be successful.
LOPEZ: Should Catholics be doing something to support Catholic health care?
NELSON: Unfortunately, some left-leaning Catholic groups have been enthusiastic supporters of current health-care reform proposals, despite the fact that they will likely result in abortion-coverage mandates for private plans and taxpayer subsidies for abortion in the public plan. It is vitally important that Catholics pay close attention to health-care reform. If the legislation is not amended so as to be abortion-neutral and provide conscience protection for Catholic providers, then lay Catholics should let their legislators know of their opposition to reform. The pro-life office of the USCCB has done a good job of tracking and analyzing legislative proposals. Check their website frequently for updates.
– Jack Nelson is a professor at the Cumberland School of Law, Samford University, and a scholar at the Lister Hill Center, University of Alabama Birmingham School of Public Health.