From the point of view of Christianity, health care is a basic right. The New Testament tells many stories of Jesus healing, and the early church carried on healing in Jesus’ name. There are two stories that are especially important. The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) tells how a stranger might be your best friend in a time of need, but it also makes the point that any decent person will stop and care for another who is injured or sick. Christians have been doing so ever since.
The other is the story of a man born blind (John 9:1-12), where Jesus’ disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus’ answer revolutionized the old-world view of illness: that it was the consequence of sin or karma. Another word for this is fatalism: the belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable. Christianity is profoundly anti-fatalistic. Christians believe that we can help one another, and in doing so improve the world. This is the main belief that distinguishes the modern mind from that of the ancient world. It is the cornerstone of the progress that is the hallmark of Western Civilization.
In Christian terminology, health care is the ministry of healing. It is foundational for all Christian missions. From the beginning, Christians refused to run away from sickness (as was the practice in paganism), but remained with the sick and nursed them back to health. This is one of the reasons Christianity gained in numbers and prominence: Christians, and those nursed by Christians, tended to survive epidemics, while those who were deserted by their neighbors did not.
Health care was always part of Christian missions. Each mission had its church, school and clinic. Missions did not just introduce people to a system of belief, but also gave them tools to improve their lives and deal with disease.
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Finally, the very existence of modern medical science owes a great deal to the Christian influences in Western Civilization, in particular the values of healing and education.
So how can one say that health care is not a basic right? How, indeed, can a person exercise any other right without health? The way we treat people who are sick or injured is a measure of our humanity.
More could be said about the place of health care in a civil society. There is room for debate about how to deliver that health care, and how to pay for it. But there should be no debate whether it is a right: It is essential.
Footnote: The word “Christian” has two meanings. It can mean a personal religious commitment and it can also mean a cultural identity. This opinion really refers to both meanings. It does not claim that Christianity is a superior religion, but it does challenge those who call themselves Christian to consider the fullest meaning of that word.
The Rev. David Carlson is a Presbyterian minister who is retired from service as an executive, now serving as pastor at Kirkpatrick Memorial Community Church in Parma.