by Daniel Roche

I am a supporter of SB 810, a cancer survivor, and the member of a family greatly impacted by the state of our current healthcare system. My little brother succumbed to a combined auto-immune deficiency disorder unique to him seven years ago, but he and I both survived into adulthood thanks to the healthcare coverage our parents were provided as employees of the United States Postal Service. My mother is also a cancer survivor and suffers from advanced rheumatoid arthritis. Most days, she would be in so much pain that she would be doubled up on my parents’ bed vomiting. But she went to work every single day of our childhood to ensure we had the coverage our care required and a roof over our heads.

As a person who has been chronically ill, the son of a chronically ill person, and the bereaved brother of a terminally ill person, I’ve witnessed firsthand the difference in care a person with first-rate insurance coverage enjoys in this country and the care others are able to receive. I’ve also witnessed what some of us have to go through to acquire that kind of coverage and provide it to their families. I think it is wrong that the quality of care a person receives in this country depends on accidents of fortune and birth. Furthermore, I think it is unconscionable that the current system in the greatest state in the greatest country in the world can require a sick woman to sacrifice her own care and health for the sake of providing for her family.

However, I am also a Lutheran and recognize that the Christian faith and the dialogues it forces us to engage in are often difficult. I recognize that good, responsible, sane, and caring people can walk away from those struggles with radically different conclusions, and that the role of the state in our lives is the source of such dialogues. Those who fall on the other side of the issue of healthcare reform may agree with the opinions of figures like the Minnesota Family Council’s Tom Pritchard when he writes:

In Obama’s worldview, our trust is in government not in God. A denial of how God designed and created our economic and social systems to actually work in the real world. The result? The abysmal failure of government control of health care in socialist models. From the USSR which takeover [sic] everything, including health care, to our neighbors to the north, Canada and European countries such as the UK where rationing and massive waiting periods are the order of the day.*

When we come to these sorts of disagreements, I like to draw attention to what our religious text actually says. When those disagreements concern our duties to each other, St. Matthew offers us a particularly stirring teaching of Christ to consider in Matthew 25:37-40:

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

For those that hold that tradition and scripture both shape our commitments, allow me to present a selection from my own tradition, an excerpt from Luther’s Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague:

For this I well know, if it were Christ or his mother who were laid low by illness everyone would be so solicitous and would gladly become a servant or a helper. … If you wish to serve Christ and wait on him, very well, you have your sick neighbor close at hand. Go to him and serve him and you will surely find Christ in him…

A Christian’s duty is to love and serve one’s neighbor’s unconditionally. This is one of the great boons of the Incarnation — it allows us to see the kind face of God in the humanity of another. When we see an injured or sick person and fail to see our suffering Lord, we have failed the most basic test of our faith.

A government is simply the public space in which we come together and address the needs and problems of our communities. The government of California is a uniquely good venue for this because, more often than not, it refuses to limit the scope of that community. Publicly provided health care in this state thus provides faithful Christian Californians a wonderful opportunity. When we reflect and hold ourselves to account for how we have served our community and Lord, in anticipation for the day when we are held to such an account by Christ himself, support for SB 810 will afford us the opportunity to serve the afflicted in our state as selflessly and equitably as Christ serves us through his Grace.

*Editor’s Note: Thanks to Daniel Roche for providing this religious perspective on the importance of caring for each other. Just to add, Tom Pritchard’s assertions about rationing and wait times in Canada and Europe are misleading. The rest of the developed world rations health care according to need. However, everyone receives a basic and decent standard of care. The United States also rations health care, but based on the ability to pay. And 50 million people have little or no access to health care because they don’t have insurance. As for wait times, while Canada and the United Kingdom have had problems with long wait times, that is true typically for elective or non-emergency procedures. In France and Germany, however, wait times are relatively short. But for Americans with no insurance, the wait for basic care can literally be forever.