Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

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Subsidiarity and Health Care Reform

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas and Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City/St. Joseph have released a joint pastoral statement on health care reform. See the full text of this letter here:

Principles of Catholic Social Teaching and Health Care Reform

One of the key issues addressed is a principle of Catholic social justice teaching known as the principle of subsidiarity.

The statement summarizes as follows:

“Subsidiarity is that principle by which we respect the inherent dignity and freedom of the individual by never doing for others what they can do for themselves and thus enabling individuals to have the most possible discretion in the affairs of their lives. (See: Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, ## 185ff.; Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1883) The writings of recent Popes have warned that the neglect of subsidiarity can lead to an excessive centralization of human services, which in turn leads to excessive costs, and loss of personal responsibility and quality of care.”

The Catholic social justice principle of respect for the dignity of each human person rightly causes us to advocate for health care for all, as our bishops strongly support. However, the principle of subsidiarity not only allows but even encourages us to be very afraid of the idea of the government running our health care system. The entire Catholic hospital system was established under the principle of subsidiarity. Individual people and communities see a need and do something about it. You don’t wait for or expect that someone else, especially the government, will come in and do it for you.

Today, we not only expect that the government will fix all our problems, but we have the sad delusion that somehow only the government could really do the best job. It is too often the case that we have lost a sense of solidarity and community with those around us and no longer take personal responsibility for ourselves, yet alone our neighbor. We need health care reform, but more than that we need reform in personal responsibility.

There is no magic government money tree to fund stimulus packages, bailouts, cash for clunkers, or any other spending program. The government has no money; it has only your money and my money. Further, the government has no power other than what has been entrusted to it by the people through the constitution. The founding fathers were terrified of a large central government. Partly, they had pride in taking care of themselves and didn’t want to be dependent on anyone else. More importantly, they knew from experience that power ultimately corrupts. At best, they¬†didn’t want some big central bureaucracy making decisions for them that were better made closer to home. Thus we find the principle of subsidiarity in the framework of our government.

Nowhere in constitution did we ever give the government the power to take over the health care industry. We all need to look for solutions to how we can have affordable health care for all, but the government is not the answer. You and I are the answer. That is the principle of subsidiarity.

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