Ethical questions about health care

A recent article in Time notes that the typical American way to address our economic problems, particularly related to heath care, is evasion and denial. They suggest that this is even truer of the underlying ethical issues regarding health care that need to be addressed by our society. They cite such questions as “When should aggressive treatment be limited for someone who is terminally ill?” “Does everyone deserve the same care?” “Is medical progress always a good thing?” “How much happiness do people deserve?” that get answered by default if we don’t address them ahead of time.

It is clear that what they are saying is right. If we don’t address these ethical questions as a society we will blindly proceed with our dysfunctional system of care and economic forces will prevail.

The question is what to do about it. How do we get our society to think about these things and come to a consensus for the good of all? Sometimes government can help, many times in response to something. After Tuskegee we got the Belmont report. After court cases about stopping life-sustaining care there was a presidential commission to address that. When President Bush had to address human embryonic stem cell research we got the President’s Council on Bioethics that tried to be a forum for national discussion of broad underlying issues in bioethics. Some times government focuses more on specific policy issues as is the agenda for the current Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

However, what government does is not enough. Organizations like CBHD can play a major role in helping to define the issues and engaging people in the conversation. Those of us involved in the church and in education can also play a significant role. Having discussions in our churches can help people engage these questions in a Christian context. Helping students to think about these issues can prepare future leaders to be ready to lead the discussion in the future. Each one of us has a part we can play in helping our society think about these issues so that we are not led blindly into the future by economic forces alone.

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