Why Christians should support health care rationing

By Charles C. Camosy Photo credit: Haraz N. Ghanbari — Associated Press Photo. It’s coming.  Health care reform, Round II. … Continued

By Charles C. Camosy

Photo credit: Haraz N. Ghanbari — Associated Press Photo.

It’s coming.  Health care reform, Round II.

Republicans pledged to do it as part of their manifesto during the midterm election campaigns.  And House Speaker John Boehner, less than a day after the elections, vowed that the GOP would “do everything we can to try to repeal this bill and replace it with common sense reforms to bring down the cost of health care.”  

But why was this such a high priority?  The lack of cost controls?  Unfunded state mandates?  Questions surrounding federal funding of abortions?  Well, yes, but the go-to critique of health care reform can be summed up in one word:


Recently, as part of a response to the FDA revoking its approval for a late-stage breast cancer drug, several key Republicans criticized this kind of rationing, but set their sights on a much bigger target:

“Unfortunately, this is only just the beginning,” they continued. “The new health reform law — the so-called Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — creates 159 new boards, commissions and agencies that will destroy the doctor-patient relationship and replace it with federal bureaucrats deciding who gets care and what treatments they can receive,” The Hill’s Jason Millman reported.

And the GOP will have backing in this effort from a pro-life Christian base crying out against ‘euthanasia’ and ‘death panels’ in the new health care law.

But this attitude refuses to admit two undeniable truths about human existence:

We have virtually unlimited health care needs. (All of us will die some day.)

We have limited health care resources. (There is a finite amount of ‘stuff’ out there.)

We will never

Consider Indiana Medicaid and six-month old Seth Petreikis as a case in point.  Without a very rare ‘thymus transplant’ Seth would die within a few months, but his family couldn’t afford the $500,000 price tag.  At first, Indiana Medicaid called the treatment ‘experimental’ and denied their claim. But perhaps because of media and other social pressure, and also because the treatment (though not yet formally approved by the FDA) could hardly be called experimental given its 73% success rate, the procedure was eventually approved .  Obviously the family was overjoyed:

“I got the call and when I heard her say it was approved, I just fell down on the floor crying,” said his mother Becky Petreikis, a Dyer resident. She called her husband, Tim, who was driving home from his job in Chicago, and shared the news with their 3-year-old daughter, Julia. “The phone’s been ringing off the hook,” she said.

Great, right?  The cold, unfeeling government defeated in favor of the vulnerable and desperate child.

Well, not so fast.  From an ethical point of view it’s more complicated.

Medicaid works from fixed budgets and the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to perform this transplant are resources that now cannot be used to serve other Medicaid patients.  Indiana has a budget crisis caused in large part by medical costs.  Their need to cut Medicaid is so great that they are even telling parents of disabled children that Medicaid funding is no longer an option–and perhaps they should leave their children at a homeless shelter  if they cannot care for them at home.  Indeed, states all over the country are scrambling to cut Medicaid costs–Arizona also recently made headlines by refusing to fund life-saving transplants. Physicians’ flight from Medicaid patients, already problematic because of poor reimbursement rates, will only get worse with the new health care plan.

Attempting to escape health care rationing has exactly the same chance of happening as we have of escaping the finite nature of our resources and, indeed, of our very being.


Sadly, the effort that many Christians are leading against rationing misunderstands what it means to be pro-life in a fallen world riddled with tragedy.  We should never, ever claim that any human being is of ‘less worth’ than another, nor should we ever directly aim at the death of an innocent human person. But neither should we engage in self-deception about the kind of world in which we live. Instead of pretending that this tragic, fallen state of affairs does not exist, Christians should be among the best at bravely attempting to face its reality. We should be able to recognize the false idol present in the consumerist mantra that we can have as much as we want of whatever we want.  And we should soundly reject it.  

We live in a fallen world–one riddled with tragedy.  But in the interests of justice we must have the courage to make the difficult and even heart-breaking choices such a world requires.

Charles C. Camosy is Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York and is author of Too Expensive to Treat? with Wm. B. Eerdmans Press.

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  • eezmamata

    If you need a liver transplant, a heart transplant, but you can’t afford it, too bad. I can afford liposuction, rhinoplasty, and prosthetic penile enhancements … and if I choose to have any of those, well, I just will.My dollars mean my life is more important than yours. If you don’t like it, get over it already. There’s a death panel at your HMO, at your state medicare office, that agrees with me.

  • slowe111

    Bravo for the courage to start a conversation on this topic. The quality of life needs to assessed alongside the length of life. Some folks want to live too long – longer than they deserve and at a cost that none of us ( via our shared health care insurance costs) can afford. But how do we determine when it is too costly to prolong life and delay the inevitable? 80 yr? 85? 90? In what condition of mental capacity? No memory? unconscious? barely responsive? I often wonder why Christians – sure of and looking forward to heaven are so reluctant to actually go there? Willing to delay their departure at almost any cost. Hummmmm? What if we thought of the generous act of refusing costly dialysis, or Rx, or surgical procedures as providing health care for a child that needs it. Giving up some medical procedures at age 80 might provide vaccines and routine health care to poor children who don’t have it today? Is it not Christian charity to give them the gift of health -even life – rather than delay your own demise for 6 weeks? 1 year? Who will be the first to give this gift?

  • Fizdad

    Instead of opposing federal gov’t panels in favor of state panels (the recent Arizona transplant incident) or current insurance panels, it may be more productive to determine what the panels’ objectives are and rank them according to some fiscal and moral concepts.If the author’s two listed truths are deemed correct, then all the above ‘panels’ must eventually make decisions to save money, to ration resources. The question then defaults to what becomes of the money they save? If that money pays the executives of the company bonuses or pays stockholders, well that’s one way of investing the savings. If that money is put towards other people’s health needs (not wants), that’s another way. Our choice of which kind of panel to use should explicitly include this decision on investment of rationing outcomes.

  • solsticebelle

    Oh, please.If baby Seth were still inside his mother’s womb and she wanted to abort him because he would die shortly after birth, you Christians believe in FORCING her to give birth….THEN you would think it was OK to let him die!Hypocrites!

  • itsthedax

    So, a truly moral society would decide that it does not exist to protect its weakest members, but to provide resources only to those who can pay the most? Our society would decide that the rich are more deserving than the poor?Compassionate Conservatism at its best.

  • pspox

    We actually have already been having a Death Panel and it’s called the Insurance Companies. They are the one constantly getting between the doctor-patient relationship by telling what treatment is covered or not, and they are the one heaping mountains of red tapes to deny coverage. Try to read and understand their policy coverage, and you will see what I’m talking about. Or try to ask why certain treatment are not covered and you will get sent on a round-about wild goose chase.

  • cprferry

    Rationing with the option of “voluntary” (more often coerced by telling people they cost us too much or have little to live for) end of life planning or euthanasia is what the pro-life advocates can not accept.

  • MiuBot116

    Well, I wouldn’t consider it a religious issue, but the question of how to expend our FINITE resources is one that, writ large, needs to be asked all over this country — social, economic, political, environmental, etc etc.The Boomers have all gotten us used to the “have your cake and eat it too” mentality, but we younger people will have to make some very difficult decisions about all of these things in the very near future.Because, as much as it make strike us as morally shady, these are ALL FINITE RESOURCES. And finite resources are something that need to be allocated. And it’s usually never allocated evenly.So, how do we really address this thorny dilemma?

  • cprferry

    And that is a particular concern if one distant entity (government) has great influence over both determining the accessibility to care and the procedures to be coerced into death. The fear is that the two would act in concert to seek cost savings at the expense of life.

  • Truthteller15

    Pul-eeze! The hypocracy and self-centeredness of the religious right is boundless. You don’t want the working poor to have health insurance because you’re afraid it might affect your lifestyle – sitting there on your fat-arse in your starter castle. Not all who cry Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven.

  • lks2

    The premise of this article doesn’t justify its conclusion: because there are limited resources that cannot possibly cover the demand, then we already ration. But then the author jumps to a justification of federal welfare and tax-contributed charity. That jump simply doesn’t jive. Yes, there are limited resources. Yes, it is tragic that not every person can be healed and not every person can have the medical procedures they need. But there is also a finite amount of “free” healthcare that can be given. If you are concerned about access and affordability in healthcare, government rationing isn’t the solution. Especially in respect to the Christian argument. YOU should be charitable–not tell everyone else they should accept expansive and notoriously inefficient government programs. Be the change you want to see. Private charity is the Christian way.

  • tinyjab40

    If we want to ration health care, why not ration health care to the rich? Health care is like much else in this nation–wealth determines who has power and the best care. I have trouble seeing that as Christian.

  • fasm7700

    Republicans have latched on to certain Christian tenets because this gives them the appearance of being good guys. In essence they are heartless money grubbers who chose dollars over human lives. If you don’t believe me check out what Gov. Brewer did. She chose funding for algae research over funding for heart transplants. How much more cruel can we get. This is certainly not Christian behavior.

  • CalP

    As long as the choice is between the individual and their chosen sounding board/s (family, priest, doctor etc.,)then the choice of dying from lack of care could be considered ethical; however, if some government appointed panel makes the choice on a cost effective basis, how could it be ethical?In this case, it is even more unethical, because the money to establish the panel $1.1 billion was attached to the Stimulus Bill (ARRA) and was already signed into law even before the Health Bill was passed by Congress.

  • Truthteller15

    Another morally bankrupt member of the so-called religious right. I got news for you buddy, you’re no Christian. You’re self-satisfied, self-centered, materialistic Pharisee. You’ll burn in a special place in hell.

  • Jihm

    Healthcare is rationed now. Good grief, are there actually people who dont know that? The more money you have the more healcare you get period – end of story.

  • samchannar

    The tea baggers, republicans and now the Christians who discovered health care rationing in the Bible, are all on the same conservative page. Their ultimate agenda? (1) Eliminate social security and privatize it. No more SS payments. (2) End Medicare. Period. (3) Absolutely no Medicaid. (4) Eliminate all public assistance.

  • areyousaying

    “Sadly, the effort that many Christians are leading against rationing misunderstands what it means to be pro-life…”So being “pro-life” is rationing like it means capital punishment and pre-emptive war? Who decides who gets to live? Pat Roberson?If this is a column on “Christian ethics” it reinforces the fact that right-wing theocons have totally hijacked poor old Jesus and want to use his name to control the rest of us, including determining who will live and who will die. “Death squads” anyone?

  • cstation

    For my Christian brother using the unfortunate cliche “burn in hell” a passsage from the New Testament: “He who calls his brother a fool is in danger of Hell’s fire.” How much danger are you in now?Rationing is unavoidable in some form. I do not think one person is worth more than another. But if I an dieing with no chance of any real recovery please pull the plug rather than spend money on me that could save or sustain a child.

  • vigor

    Ethics have nothing to do with what’s going on in American HealthCare…It’s about MONEY.Money trumps Ethics every time.Lawmakers are being bribed by Insurance Companies and HealthCare Companies.The voter WILL NOT be represented.

  • dollyangel

    Here’s the bottom line: One look at Obama and company’s view of respect(??) for human life, starting with the unborn, should sound a warning to any thinking person. Just look at their voting record on abortion, including partial-birth abortion. Hello!!The far Left has a longtime legacy of trying to make it look like there is overpopulation, while the reverse is true, ‘thanks’ to contraception and abortion. So–hey! Isn’t this handy for them? They’ll not call it ‘death panels’; they’ll package it as something ‘compassionate’ when in reality, it’s poison.

  • dollyangel

    Just adding that this organization has info which will make you think what life would be like under Obamacare’s rationing:Very scary stories!! The world does not ‘require’ us to play God and take another’s life or to have that person commit suicide; nor should it have any right to do so. Health care should NEVER be rationed. Re the story above: Little Seth’s life is worth more than any amount of money. It is SO wrong for anyone to say “we’ll let him/her die and use the money elsewhere.” (Huh?? What have we become as a nation if we allow such a thing??) But that’s where we’re headed UNLESS Obamacare is overturned. Again, please don’t fall for this phony baloney bill. Call your legislators to overturn it ASAP, as well as to work to overturn Roe v Wade. 52 million babies dead is 52 million too many. Life is precious!

  • areyousaying

    Camosy’s theocons believe we need health care rationing to better afford their Christian Oil Crusades to bring on the “rapture”

  • areyousaying

    Where is the Palin evangelical / Donohue Catholic call to stop our endless wars to cut defense spending in the name of poor old Jesus?Is this not a “Christian” issue as well?How convenient you would cut health care spending but not for your Christian Oil Crusades against you Muslim “enemies” who you demonize while suckling their teats for your oil addiction caused by your obstruction of alternative energy.

  • amelia45

    Most of us have been fed so many meals of deceit and distortion that we are thin and weak, starving for something that is real.Believe me, if the health bill is overturned, we will be back to exactly what we had before: double digit increases in health care costs, fewer and fewer people with health insurance, people dieing because they cannot afford a simply thyroid pill or high blood pressure pill.This attempt to tell us to do nothing about social ills because we are fallen from grace would leave us paralized, unable to act or react in the face of any injustice. It is a cop-out. Jesus would never stand by and wring his hands in helplessness. It is a denial of the need to act as a Christian in this fallen world. Camosy is absolutely, totally, positively WRONG.