Local leaders weighed in on the issue of universal health care in a multifaith, nonpartisan symposium, “Healthcare for All: A Moral Obligation?” on Oct. 12 at First Baptist Church of Asheville. All of the speakers advocated for a single-payer system.
Frank L. Fox, chair of the publicity and outreach committee of Healthcare for All — WNC, said, “For over 20 years, I have believed that Medicare for all is a just, cost-effective solution to the U.S. health care crisis. We have a very unfair, broken system of health care delivery in most realms except those like Medicare that are single-payer.”
“Through taxes, the government will pay, and they will be able to negotiate with all the entities in the health system, including the drug companies, to keep the prices reasonable,” Fox explained.
The Rev. David Blackmon of First Baptist Church of Asheville moderated the program and introduced the speakers.
“Jesus gives us bread, which we call the body of Christ, for the life of the world,” said the Rev. Mack Dennis, pastor of First Baptist Church, likening health care to a common church practice. “Health, wholeness and the abundance of life are crucial aims to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. In this, the Lord’s Supper is health care for all.”
Dennis raised the question of whether Christians have a moral obligation to support health care for all. “The answer, in every physical, radical, practical and social dimension is yes,” he said. But he later added, “To those who call health care an entitlement, I’m suspicious of that term. Usually, folks who use that word are folks who are in power and have the ability to shape language. I’m not concerned about who deserves and who doesn’t. I’m concerned about who’s suffering.”
Retired teacher Jackie Simms, president and co-founder of the Ethical Humanist Society, said caring about people is the basis for universal health care.
“The philosophical aspect of our culture is based on concern for others. Act to elicit the best in others, and thereby elicit the best in yourself,” Simms said. “Ethical culture causes us to reach our own enlightenment through caring about and helping to develop the individual potential and wellness of others. We have a shared concern for the quality of relationships and a moral commitment to the fundamental dignity and worth of the person. It’s a religion of deeds.
“The best moral and ethical behavior in others can only be achieved if others have the kind and quality of health care services that I have,” she continued. “Until we begin to approach others with an attitude of caring, there will never be justice. Providing health care for all is a moral and ethical example of loving all.”
“God said to love the poor and give of your wealth,” said Yosuf Ben Omran, co-founder and imam of the Asheville Islamic Center, echoing the sentiments of Simms. “A central tenet of Islam is that more privileged members of society need to take care of others. All must give to the needy. It is a must for a Muslim to look after his neighbors,” which he said leads to a prescription for universal health care.
Dr. Stephen Wall, physician at Haywood Pediatrics and a member of Congregation Beth HaTephila in Asheville, said that saving lives is the highest of all the Jewish commandments. He discussed the role of government in health care and related it to the Jewish belief in supporting community. “Ideally, the government will be an agent of the community,” Wall said. “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. If I am only for myself, who am I?”
Calling on individual Christians to take united action for universal health care, John Grant, pastor of the historic Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Asheville, said, “Personal piety and holiness do not mean forfeiting our citizenship rights to participate in shaping institutional policies that impact the well-being of persons. Christian believers have the same rights as any other American to influence culture by voting and promoting their values.”
The Rev. Michael J. Carter, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Swannanoa Valley, an audience member, spoke with Xpress after the symposium. He compared the U.S. to nations where health care is seen as a right: “We see all these other countries — Sweden, Denmark, Britain, Canada — they have health care. They’re not going broke. But it’s a matter of priorities. It’s greed that’s corrupting us. Is Wall Street your priority? Or are your own citizens?”
Carter noted that a symposium about moral values could call believers to action. “You can say you’re Christian, and you can pray for these families, but we need legislation now. We need action now. So hopefully this will prompt people to change and then go out and do what’s right.”