The Principle of Solidarity and U.S. Healthcare: A Closer Look

When members of Congress were debating the Affordable Care Act, many Catholics suggested that the Catholic Principle of Subsidiarity was particularly instructive in the ongoing U.S. healthcare debate.  Although mindful of the many relevant Catholic principles involved in the discussions of U.S. Healthcare (e.g., common good, separation of Church and State, life, primacy of focus on the poor, and of course the principle of solidarity), we proposed the Principle of Subsidiarity as a guiding principle as well as an optimal entry point for Catholic-Americans to enter the U.S. healthcare debate from a Catholic perspective.  (See, e.g., A Guiding Principle to the Debate on Healthcare: The Principle of Subsidiarity).

Unfortunately, many Catholics reacted in a polemical manner and insisted that the Principle of Solidarity necessarily dictated that Catholics endorse a healthcare policy that ensured insurance coverage for all Americans because we must show Solidarity with all Americans. Some of these Catholics even insisted that the Principle of Solidarity was the ultimate, if not controlling principle, notwithstanding the many other troubling aspects of the legislation (including the foreseeable adverse effects on Religious Freedom, life issues, imprudently opting for fraud and waste, the foreseeable increased mistakes in the administration of healthcare, the virtual assurance that insurance decision-makers would employ utilitarian cost-benefit decision-making, etc.).

Thus, while Congress again debates healthcare legislation, I think it’s a good time to take a closer look at the Principle of Solidarity in the hopes that committed Catholics can avoid any further distortions of various Principles of Catholic Social Teaching to support a desired outcome.

First, Catholics who dogmatically insist that the Principle of Solidarity demands support of U.S. legislation to the extent that a law ensures insurance coverage for all Americans are arguably violating Pope Francis’ warning not to apply any one principle of Catholic Social Teaching in a “disjointed” manner.  Although some Catholic teachings are more central to our Faith than others (such as the prohibition against the taking of innocent life), no one principle is to be applied in a vacuum, particularly in this case when the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity are themselves complimentary and address two different dimensions of the human experience.

Second, Catholics who mechanically insist on applying Solidarity to ensure insurance coverage of all Americans should reflect on the extent to which they are limiting the application of the Principle of Solidarity to nationalistic considerations.  Although we might feel good about supporting national insurance coverage under the banner of Solidarity, we might be interjecting an unnecessary limiting principle into the breadth of the horizontal aspect of the Principle of Solidarity.

To loosely borrow a phrase from Seinfeld, it’s sort of the theological equivalence of “stopping short.” As Catholic-Americans, we should promote the common good here at home; but as Catholics, we should look beyond our own nation and show solidarity with all human persons with whom we have Solidarity as fellow earthly pilgrims by virtue of our status as adopted sons and daughters through Christ.

I am certainly not suggesting that Catholic principles demand that America, as a nation, guarantee healthcare for everyone much less try to ensure insurance coverage beyond our borders; but I am suggesting that we Catholics have a duty to apply Catholic Social Teaching so that all of God’s children have basic human needs met, including basic healthcare.

At the very least, particularly in light of the migration and fluidity at our southern border, we Catholics should consider whether the principle of solidarity challenges us to broaden our vision to encompass all of the Americas?

In conclusion, we Catholic-Americans must all eschew simple solutions and work together to implement an approach to healthcare that reflects the depth and richness of all of Catholic Social Teachings, which is also fair and just for all Americans. Perhaps, if we had initially started with the Principle of Subsidiarity —  with many trial and errors behind us, and human initiatives we will never know because the particular moment has now passed — we might now be just a little closer to realizing the Catholic vision of ensuring that all of God’s children have basic human needs met, including healthcare.

Charles J. Gernazian is an attorney in Atlanta, Georgia and is the Director of Catholic American Center on Law and Religion - www.Catholic-American.org.