Lauding the idea of universal health coverage but warning about the challenges that health care reform may pose in the realm of religious rights, Agudath Israel of America’s Washington Office director and counsel, Rabbi Abba Cohen, laid out his organization’s perspective in a letter addressed to President Barack Obama, and copied to Congressional leaders and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
The letter calls “universal coverage” a “worthy goal” and the fact that tens of millions of Americans reportedly have no health coverage “unacceptable.” At the same time, it expresses concern that the cost-cutting measures designed to achieve universal coverage could result in diminished medical options for patients, and might undermine the centrality of the patient-doctor relationship.
Those concerns, according to Agudath Israel, must be considered in light of the fact that, for Orthodox Jews and millions of Americans of all faiths, “the preservation of life and the promotion of good health and well-being are religious imperatives.” This insight, writes Rabbi Cohen, “adds an important new dimension to the debate over health care policy” – a debate that has taken center stage in the public arena as legislation seeking to overhaul health care in the United States is being considered by Congress.
The issue of religious rights, Rabbi Cohen writes, certainly bears impact on patient treatment. Agudath Israel is concerned that appropriate health care may not be provided in circumstances where “cost-benefit” analyses or judgments about “quality of life” may cause treatment to be denied; and asserts that treatment of the infirm must take into account patients’ religious convictions.
Furthermore, the religious rights of health-care providers and private sector employers must also be respected, writes Rabbi Cohen. When medical personnel, for instance, are “called upon to perform medical procedures they consider religiously or morally objectionable” or “employers are told to provide coverage for such procedures,” Agudath Israel asserts, their rights should be safeguarded.
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s executive vice president, noted the unique contribution the organization’s letter makes to the ongoing national debate. “Discussion of the religious dimension of health care has been largely absent from the national dialogue,” he says. “In reality, matters of life and death cannot be measured solely in dollars and cents; they no less need to be considered through the prism of religion and morality.”