Volume > Issue > The Sanctity of Life & the Right to Adequate Health Care

The Sanctity of Life & the Right to Adequate Health Care


By John O’Connor | March 1986
John Cardinal O’Connor is the Archbishop of New York.

Ed. Note: The following constitutes a somewhat abridged version of the U.S. Catholic Conference’s 1985 Labor Day message, written by John Cardinal O’Connor, Chairman of the USCC’s Committee on Social Development and World Peace.


The fact that at least 35 million Americans cannot afford adequate health care should be a deep concern to the Church and to our whole soci­ety. It is appropriate to reflect on what lack of sufficient health care means to people in this country. Affordable health care has been a major objective of labor unions and working people throughout the century. The enactment of the Medicare and Med­icaid programs were major steps toward fulfillment of the goal of universal coverage. Decades of steady progress are now being eroded as discussion of health-care issues focuses almost exclusively on cost containment. In this statement I hope to look at some aspects of current conditions in health care from the point of view of Catholic social teaching.

Earlier gains in rates of health-insurance cov­erage are being eroded as unemployment and la­bor-force realignments leave a larger proportion of working people and their families with minimal or no protection.

By the latest official estimates, 35 million Americans have neither the financial resources nor public or private health insurance to pay for ade­quate health care. Half of those with incomes be­low the federal poverty standard have no insurance and are ineligible for Medicaid. Others with slightly higher incomes still cannot afford the cost of pri­vate health insurance and are ineligible for coverage under employer-sponsored plans.

The poor and uninsured in our country have often depended on care from publicly funded health services: public hospitals, community health centers, maternal and child health projects. Unfor­tunately, care from those sources has diminished as many public facilities have closed or cut back on hours or services. While some individual hospitals have increased aid to the poor, on the whole the private sector has not filled the gap. In fact, the combined effect of cost-containment efforts and increased competition has actually reduced care for the poor among private hospitals. In some states there appears to be a clear relationship between the growth of investor-owned health facilities and re­duced access to care for the poor and uninsured.

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