My colleague Shavar Jeffries has been a powerful moral voice at BlackProf on a number of issues affecting children, including school vouchers. I found his take on the recent SCHIP debate extraordinarily compelling:
In the third presidential debate in 2004, the President reiterated that “[my] principles are derived from who I am. I believe we ought to love our neighbor like we love ourself . . . . And so my principles that I make decisions on are a part of me. And religion is a part of me.”
So I ask: Would Jesus have vetoed the SCHIP bill?
Of the over 43 million Americans lacking health insurance, about eight million are children. Not only does this mean that millions of children are unable to access the care they need to treat debilitating illnesses, it also means they cannot obtain the preventive care and counseling that protects against sickness and promotes wellness.
The congressional bill would have added $7 billion to the program in each of the next five years, enabling S-CHIP to cover an additional 4 million children. This, evidently, was too much for the President to bear. He vetoed the bill, claiming that it would cover too many middle-class families, would encourage those with private coverage to switch to S-CHIP, and would represent an unjustifiable step toward government-managed health-care. These rationales, however, are unsupportable.
So what would Jesus do? I think the answer is clear: “Whatever you neglected to do unto one of the least of these, you neglected to do unto Me.”
I admit that sometimes the application of religious principles to social problems can lead to a variety of solutions. And at least in Catholic social thought, the principle of subsidiarity may temper the desirability of any federalization of the system, as Susan Stabile notes in “Poor” Coverage: The Preferential Option for the Poor and Access to Health Care. Nevertheless, Stabile also notes that “We can not have adequate respect for the dignity of the human person without a system that ensures that all people have the ability to receive medical care when they need it.” SCHIP expansion would have been a step in that direction.