Thursday, March 8, 2012

Compassion, human rights and health care

The most common question put to me as I promote the work of Anglican health facilities is why the Church should still be involved in providing health services. Throughout the world the state and the private sector have come to varying accommodations to ensure that health care is available. People ask me why the Church should not now just get on with its core business - which presumably in their mind means prayer and moral guidance?

I wrote about this recently in a newsletter produced by the Africa Christian Health Associations Platform. I offer an extract as a taster, and hope you might follow this link to read edition english .pdf

Christian compassion dictates that the strong should help the weak and that the wealthy should subsidise the needs of the poor. We call this ‘charity’; a term which expresses the love we are commanded to have for our neighbours. It is a spiritual and practical corrective to the inevitable disparities that emerge in market societies, whether ancient or modern. In the idealised setting envisaged by the laws of the Pentateuch, the surplus of one person provides for the needs of another. The Jubilee principle dictates that no-one should become too dominant, and that no-one should be left in slavery and destitution.

This may have been applicable to the pre-modern rural setting where the transactional nature of this subsidy was personal, but what about this diverse and dynamic world of 7 billion neighbours we have now? Here there needs to be a more professional and universal system to ensure that resources are shared effectively. But does this then mean that interpersonal acts of compassion are no longer significant? Does it imply that government rather than local religious community should manage safety nets and redistribution systems? Or to conceive of the question in another way: Does the enlightenment notion of human rights supersede our religious vocation to express charity?

These quasi-political considerations have implications for Christian health mission. Can the ‘right to health’ be fulfilled to any extent by the ‘charitable’ sector, or is it by nature only government that can manage a comprehensive health system? In answering this question, Christian activists have to decide whether to focus on persuading governments to execute their task more effectively, or whether to expand their own services to those who are underserved by the public system.

Of course, the answer to these dilemmas is not going to lie at one of the polar extremes. If we discard the many outlets for compassionate care of our neighbours, we become less than the human persons into which God breathed loving existence. We are driven by divine commission to help those in need. On the other hand, if we think we can effectively transform the needs of society through some idealised divine kindness, we are blind to the limitations of our capacities. We are not yet in Heaven. We are still seeking the Kingdom. Laws and authorities will help direct societies to bring health and hope to all people, without prejudice or omission.

These are grounds for a positive partnership between Church and State. Working collaboratively, the energies of faith and the mandates of law can ensure a stronger human society, blessed by the underlying experience of compassionate love. Various alignments of responsibilities between Church and State can be adopted. Varying cultures can adapt the relationship as required. The goal of complementarity can be progressed to best effect.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Post a Comment

If you would like to comment on our blog posts, you can find the link for 'comments' at the bottom right of each post.