How Obamacare Offends Human Dignity

The Catholic Church’s social teaching is erected on the belief in the basic dignity of the human person. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church is replete with references to human dignity with regard to social, political, and economic life. The encyclical Pacem in Terris by Pope John XXIII provided a catalog of the natural rights of man, including the right to medical care as part of a more encompassing right to life. The concern about human dignity and making the right to medical care a reality for everyone no doubt prompted the USCCB to support the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), at least absent its requirements to cover contraception, sterilizations, and abortifacients. The much-heightened centralized control over health care heralded by Obamacare is troublesome in light of the basic principle of subsidiarity, but perhaps the USCCB thought it could be justified because of these other considerations. Will the ACA truly make medical care more readily available or will it—is it already—offending human dignity?

Perhaps the central problem of American health care has been cost. The rationale justifying the ACA—as the law’s name suggests—was to make health care affordable. As we witness the rising—indeed, sharply rising—premiums confronting many Americans, it looks like the opposite is occurring.

To be sure, Obamacare promises to subvert human dignity in significant ways. Its mandating and subsidizing abortifacients—the killing of the unborn—is the ultimate affront to human dignity. Contraception and sterilization undermine human dignity by subverting the ends of the sexual faculty and of marriage. The ensuing harm done to families—consider the corresponding rise of children born outside of marriage and marital breakdown, which the easy availability of contraception has stimulated—undermines the dignity of offspring by depriving them of their right (stressed by Pope John Paul II) to an intact family. By mandating that insurance plans cover these practices, it cannot help but to increase their incidence and to undermine the dignity of many more persons.

All this is even apart from the assault on human dignity by the HHS mandate that requires Catholics and other conscientious objectors to contribute by their insurance premiums to these immoral practices. The ACA, then, violates what John Paul II called two of the most basic human rights, to life and religious freedom (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis #33).

The continuing increase of the cost of Obamacare over time, as projected by the Congressional Budget Office and as experienced by virtually every entitlement program, is almost certain—especially in an anti-life culture—to result in the rationing of care. Indeed, the nature of the Independent Payment Advisory Board right in the law suggests this. So, the human dignity of the elderly and the chronically infirm will be imperiled. It is likely to accelerate demands for legalizing physician-assisted suicide, a right of health care institutions to withhold care irrespective of the wishes of patients’ families, and other forms of euthanasia.

While some scoffed at Sarah Palin’s comment about death panels, defenders of the law, like Paul Krugman, Steven Rattner, and Howard Dean, have admitted that it’s likely.

Human dignity can be offended in less obvious and dramatic ways, however. There doesn’t have to be an assault on basic human rights. Pacem in Terris says that human rights are rooted in the fact that man is a rational creature “endowed with intelligence and free will” (#9), and the Christian knows that freedom is at the heart of man’s dignity. The social encyclicals resound with the theme that insuring human dignity requires a condition of adequate temporal well-being. Man’s dignity also requires protecting his privacy, rightly understood. So, we have the seal of confession, the moral requirement of not divulging private information without a grave reason, and the need to respect the domain of personal and family privacy. Another part of human dignity involves telling people the truth, including in their role as citizens. Among the rights listed in Pacem in Terris is “to be informed truthfully about public events” (#12). Respect for human dignity means that a person must be treated justly. Charity and basic respect are also owed to people as part of respect for their dignity.

The early experience with the ACA shows disregard for human dignity in all these ways. In its very conception, it reduces freedom in an unprecedented way: by forcing people to purchase a product or face an increasingly steep financial penalty if they don’t. It refuses to allow them to choose how to go about taking care of one of the most personal of commodities: their bodily health. They may do it only by purchasing health insurance (which, by the way, is not synonymous with health care). Further, they may for the most part purchase only the kind of insurance coverage approved by the federal government. It is likely to reduce their health care choices further by limiting who can be their medical practitioners. In effect, the ACA tells people that they are unintelligent or ignorant; they cannot be trusted to make their own health care decisions.

Truthfulness has been in short supply all along in the push for Obamacare. We went from Nancy Pelosi telling us just to wait and see what was in the law to the recent admission by HHS that it wanted people to find out about their eligibility for government subsidies before telling them what the policies would cost. All the Democratic rhetoric leading up to the passage of the ACA said that it would make health insurance less costly. As mentioned, however, the reality is very different. In most states premiums will rise, often considerably and in some cases by over 100 percent. Premium costs will make it difficult for some individuals and families to meet their other expenses. They face a decline of their overall standard of living—their temporal well-being, a basis for a dignified life—because of the demands of Obamacare.

Obamacare was also supposed to make coverage available to everyone, but it looks like thirty million will still be without. Some are losing the plans they already have.

Some surveys are suggesting that the ACA could result in many physicians leaving the profession. That will obviously have implications for the state of people’s health, the very aspect of temporal well-being it was supposed to improve.

The favoritism shown to members of Congress and their staffs, the members of big labor unions, and various big companies hardly bespeaks just treatment; they are treated differently than the average citizen. This is a violation of commutative justice akin to the unequal bargaining position of employers and workers alluded to by Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum (#43-45).

The ACA’s assault on privacy has been much commented on, from the stream of private medical information people must submit to sign up to the ready dangers posed by the ACA’s requirement of computerization of everyone’s medical records. If anyone believes that this is crying wolf, he should consider the leaks of confidential tax information by the IRS (the ACA’s enforcement agency) and the revelations of the near-universal NSA spying on citizen communications.

Then, there is the simple matter of the poor treatment and abject frustration faced by most people who try to sign up at the ACA websites—and the almost indifferent shrugs about it by officials. A government truly respecting its people would not have let such foreseeable systemic failure occur. We can recall John Paul II’s observation in Centesimus Annus that the welfare state is dominated more by “bureaucratic ways” than concern for serving its clients (#48).

The meaning of all this for the Church in the U.S. is to be cautious about supporting public policy initiatives just because they seem on the surface to address human needs and promote human rights. Often, how something is done is as important as what is done. About public policy, one must always take into account the details of the legislation, delivery schemes, counter-productivity, likely long-term developments, unintended consequences, and the political obsession with imagery over substance. Human dignity can be affronted in a myriad of ways, great and small, so that what seems to be an advance ends up as a serious retrogression.

(Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

Stephen M. Krason


Stephen M. Krason's "Neither Left nor Right, but Catholic" column appears monthly (sometimes bi-monthly) in Crisis Magazine. He is Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies and associate director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also co-founder and president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. He is the author, most recently, of The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic (Transaction Publishers, 2012), and editor of three volumes: Child Abuse, Family Rights, and the Child Protective System (Scarecrow Press, 2013) and The Crisis of Religious Liberty (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014); and most recently, Challenging the Secular Culture: A Call to Christians (Franciscan University Press). His latest book is Catholicism and American Political Ideologies (Hamilton Books). He is also the author of a new novel, American Cincinnatus.

  • Bob

    Excellent article, Stephen. Thank you for framing your argument by referring to Catholic social teaching.

    “The emperor has no clothes.” Our country bought in to the cult of Obama.

    And yes, Obama is lieing through all this. I had to chuckle at a comment in the recent LA Times article from a pro Obama supporter that said “I was all for Obamacare until I saw my premiums skyrocket!”

    Another assault to human dignity and self worth is the now “cradle to grave” entitlement programs we now have in the United States. These programs ultimately do not help the impoverished, and tells them that they can not through self determination and by fulfilling God given gifts and talents become productive citizens. No, you are not fellow children of God, you are children of a lesser god that requires our help.

    And wait……there’s more! If you think that the current controversy over the cancellation of possibly 15 million individual insurance policies is fun, wait till the employee mandate of the law hits in January, 15. As many as 75 million policies through our workplace will be cancelled unless they pay for contraception, abortifacients, and $250,000 surgeries and treatments for gender change.

  • Oremusman

    There are some genuine evils and various defects with ACA and its rollout. Yet, fatuous notions of so-called ‘human dignity’ which don’t have meaningful roots in Catholic doctrine, and come at the expense of God’s majesty and authority, are a rickety platform upon which to mount a cogent critique.

    • Augustus

      What “fatuous notions” are you talking about? What is YOUR objection to Obamacare based on what you consider to be an *authentic* Catholic definition of human dignity? Vague dismissals hardly amount to an argument.

      • Oremusman

        Why the obsession over this John Paulist human dignity mantra? Where are all the references to it in Catholic doctrine prior to 1950? Whatever its validity has been trumped by its being co-opted for an anthropomorphic coloring of the faith at the expense of God and His sovereign will.

        And religious liberty for all is not a classical Catholic teaching or value.

        ACA should be opposed insofar as it’s against the divine and natural law of God.

        • AcceptingReality

          We’ll I am certainly no learned theologian, philosopher or anything else for that matter but I know a non-sequitur when I see one. I’m pretty sure the whole human dignity “thing” started with Our Lord…..Mathew 6:26.

    • JR

      Gee wiz. “… fatuous notions of so-called ‘human dignity’ which don’t have meaningful roots in Catholic … ”

      “Human dignity” == almost sounds like a dirty word the way it’s used here. We’re supposed to see that little sparkle of Christ in everyone. It doesn’t mean we have to elect one as president. We are though, to strive to treat others …. (you can finish it). So the phrase “human dignity” sums it up.

      Some of the terms thrown around out there by the pc crowd (i.e. human dignity, social justice …) do smell like socialism. I wish they’d change the terms because in socialism they mean something quite different from Church teaching.

  • Adam__Baum

    “including the right to medical care as part of a more encompassing right to life.”

    The problem with defining a private economic good, i.e,, defined as those that are “rivalrous” (my ownership, or use precludes another person’s) and excludable (I can restrict another’s access, use or posession) or in this case an indefinite basket of private goods is that those goods is that those rights must be purchased, unlike civil rights. A right to a good does not mean, ipso facto, a right to consume at somebody else’s expense.

    We know that markets for private goods function best when rational, informed consumers make consumption decisions by selecting from a variety of alternatives and vendors, making that calculation with their own resources.

    Yet for seventy years or so, the government has been intentionally and unintentionally removing removing consumer sovereignty, with actions like WWII wage and price controls, and the unlimited exemption from tax for employer paid health insurance premiums and the problem is the more of the same- the more people with third party payment arrangements, the more complicated the marker becomes and the more disordered the cost structure becomes.

    If the only declaration Pacem in Terris makes is the “right to medical care”, then it is fatally indefinite and incomplete and subject to malicious redefinition. “Medical care” is not self-defining. We have long required hospitals to provide acute care. Beyond immediate care necessary to sustain life is terrible thicket. What do I owe the diabetic who refuses to cooperate with directions to exercise and diet? Are the physically infirm entitled to receive an electric scooter? How about how the nefarious left declares prenatal infanticide and contraception to be “medical care”? Such questions continue ad infinitum.

    Secondly, is the issue of cost-which should be obvious, since “healthcare” in this country usually refers to a financing arrangement, rather than the actual services of doctors, surgeons, nurses and pharmacists. Do we declare it a right of all, or just people deemed poor? Does an individual bear any responsibility for payment or financing? If you vest responsibility in the government, how do you ensure care protocols and drug formularies aren’t limited arbitrarily with cost only in mind? What is the role of the Church, secular charities, employers or volunary associations. When this becomes political, spins yet another scheme that’s more of the same.

    The best answer would be to gradually return the responsibility for payment to the individual. We already have this system , with laser eye surgery, generally considered “elective”, and as a result costs have gone down, effectiveness has increased and adverse results decreased.

    There will always be a need for insurance, because there will always be catasrophic illness and injury, but the more that individuals pay directly for their medicine, the more the healthcare market is like the market for goods like computers-just about anybody can afford a computer, and they continually get better, faster, cheaper and more powerful. Computers, and now tablets and smartphones are ubiquitous. No crisis and no need for Papal reflection.

    • Carl

      There is one difference and I am in no way advocating ACA. I’m bringing up the human nature part. The great demand for consumer products like computers drives that sector in the free market.
      The demand for any type of insurance will never be as great as the consumers appetite for toys.
      For instance, people want the big house, expensive car, house on the beach, house on the river, and such, but don’t want to buy hurricane and flood insurance. How many people still drive without car insurance even when states check for coverage before you register vehicle.
      I think the first positive step for a real healthcare free market is to ban all employer provided healthcare coverage. Force consumers to purchase their own plans. Employer plans are viewed as “free” coverage.

      • Adam__Baum

        Apart from the tenuous legality and enforceability of banning employer paid coverage, it isn’t necessary.

        The provision of employer paid coverage is largely driven by its priviledged status in the tax code, specifically Section 106, which provides for an unlimited exemption from taxation by employees for premiums paid by employes-while still allowing for a deduction by the employer as a business expense.

        Obviously, if you can get a benefit tax-free people will seel that over cash wages. The higher the “marginal rate” the more an employee wants tax-free insurance rather than cash wages

  • AcceptingReality

    Once again and excellent article, Mr. Krason.

  • Ruth Rocker

    Excellent article. I’ve been watching the various news programs and all the hue and cry over the policy cancellation debacle. I have YET to hear a single person come right out and say that Obama LIED to the public. We have softer words like untruth, deceived, etc. HE LIED!!! That fact couldn’t be more clear if it was a buttonhook in the well water!! I truly lament the trend in this country to more “kinder, gentler” words when it covers the truth and makes it seem less harsh. Apparently, the press and the pundits are right in there with the government thinking we can’t handle the truth so it needs to be sugar coated. Bleh!!

    • KPH

      The in Individual Health policy “market” insurance policies ALL get “cancelled” annually at renewal data and a new policy is created for the next cycle. This is expected, you just never heard about it before. The difference is that we are at the transition point where the new policies have to meet standards. It actually effects 3% of citizens who had sub-standard coverage.
      In 3 months the entire cycle will be complete. Its the LAW of the land.

      • Ruth Rocker

        The LIE he told us was that if we were happy with our coverage we could keep it and if we were happy with our current doctor we would not have to change. Because of the way the law is written, neither of these things is true, hence he LIED through his teeth. He was instrumental in crafting this monstrosity and knew full well this would happen. A LIE is a LIE – period!!

      • Slainte

        An unjust law is not law at all. St. Augustine.

        • Matheus Grunt

          That’s right. All this talk and debate is for nothing. It’s not a law, and it’s not enforceable. It’s only enforceable on those who actually comply like the morons they are.

      • Bob

        And by LAW I will have to pay (and informally cooperate with) for others contraception, abortions and sex change operations (the whole concept of surgically changing one’s sex is mind blowing. Really, did God make a mistake and give someone the wrong body?). As a Catholic, I call these things SINS. Along with LIEING, which Obama did.

        You’re whole posting looks like nothing more than a “cut and paste” off of a pro Obamacare blog or website.

        • kph

          It is just what happens, the insurance companies issued those policies last year with full knowledge that they would not reoffer them in the subsequent cyclescycles as they would not meet standards. This is a 3% problem. As for the coverages listed above, those have been standard in the majority of group and corporation employer insurance policies for years and are not an issue for most citizens. Also it is the insurance company that determin es the doctor network, not the government, complain to the insurance companies. And, yes you will have to comply with laws you don’t agree with until such time that you can elect a congress and POTUS that overturn the laws you don’t like. The earliest window for that to occur is 2017 as you would need a 2/3 majority to overcome the veto power of the current President. By then the kinks in the ACA will be worked out AND the insurance companies will never give up the 50 million new customers that arose from the ACA.

          • Bob

            Disagree. I believe that the ACA will not get close to the 7 million enrollees (let alone, 70% young folks needed) it needs by 3/31/2014. Already, the vast majority are jumping on to the expanded state free” Medicaid rolls. The law has a real chance of collapsing upon itself, premiums will be high because people will also take the less expensive tax fine. They’ll figure out that $12700 deductibles are no bargain.

            Have you enrolled? I’m guessing not, probably claiming you have insurance from your employer. Read my post below, that will be attacked starting 1/2015. And I’ll guess you’ve already figured out that your employer insurance is far better than the garbage on the exchanges. Let me play out what might happen to you starting in 2015: you might require $15,000 in surgery. Your nice new Obama insurance will have you paying $12,700 of that bill, where your old employer insurance would have had you only $1500-3000 out of pocket. And it gets better: you might want that great, Harvard academic hospital surgeon to do your surgery. But your Obama insurance will say no. They’ll only pay for you to have that surgery at Fred’s Hospital and Bar and Grille by the surgeon that graduated in the top 93% of his med school class from the St. Kitt’s Caribbean medical school. Good luck……..go with God….

            And the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Obama has lied to us, greatly. Obamacare isn’t even out of the starting blocks, there are definitely more lies to come.

            And I’ll add to slainte’s comment: an immoral law is not law at all.

            • KPH

              “They’ll figure out that $12700 deductibles are no bargain.”

              That number is not the “deductible” – it is the “Out of Pocket Maximum ” for a family in a year for ALL payment. (Source: CA Insurance Exchange).
              I have an employer plan.

              • Bob

                From an article titled “Obamacare: Sticker Shock.”

                “Plans with the least expensive monthly premiums — highlighted by state and federal officials as proof the new law will keep costs low for consumers — have deductibles as high as $6,350 for individuals and $12,700 for families, the highest levels allowed under the law.”

                You’re not going to go on to the Obama exchanges? Why not, if they’re so great?

              • Bob

                From The National Review, an article titled “100 Unintended Consequences of Obamacare”, excellent article:


              • Adam__Baum

                I have an employer plan.
                Oh, yeah. The “Sebelius excuse”. Gotta live this pharisees making rules that OTHER PEOPLE need to obey.

          • Adam__Baum

            “By then the kinks in the ACA will be worked out AND the insurance companies will never give up the 50 million new customers that arose from the ACA. ”

            Most of what you’ve written is left-wing drivel. But when it gets right down to it, if there’s anything that keeps this millstone about our neck, it will be the development of dependent consdtituencies.
            The “kinks” haven’t been worked out of Medicare, Medicaid or the VA, and the are smaller scale federal healthhcare entrprises.
            So in other words, cronyism so something the left complains about, but works tirelessly to ensure

      • Adam__Baum

        So was segregation and prohibition and so is abortiion.

  • Bob

    From the Heritage Foundation, on how Obamacare will negatively affect the future supply of physicians. Welcome to the future world of waiting possibly months to have a surgery or cancer care follow up and treatment, coupled with sub standard physicians. Some studies show that doctors will see a 16.7% decrease in pay in 2014 because of the ACA. Our top students in the future are not going to become physicians. Too much debt, for too little pay:

    “The people of the United States are already facing a severe physician shortage. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, by 2020, the nation will need an additional 91,500 doctors to meet medical demand.[9] Obamacare exacerbates this problem by further worsening physicians’ attitude regarding the health care system. According to a survey by The Doctors Company, the largest insurer of physician and surgeon medical liability in the nation, not only do doctors believe that Obamacare will not improve the health care system, they also anticipate that it will make the current condition worse. According to the survey, nine of 10 physicians are unwilling to recommend health care as a profession to a family member.[10] Worse, the survey found that health care reform is motivating doctors to change their retirement time line, with 43 percent of respondents stating that they are considering retiring within the next five years as a result of the law.”

    • JR

      This makes me want to cry. The Left has marketed the healthcare monster since before Hillary. Too many Americans weren’t paying attention and trusted the Democratic Party as if it were God’s chosen party. Republicans became a joke magnified by the press.

      We need to wake up and take our country back. God was willing to spare Sodom for 10 good men. I do believe there are ten good men in America … at least.

  • JR

    And why did soooo many Catholics vote for Obama?

    Why did Cardinal Dolan, head of the USCCB endorse Obama by inviting him to the Al Smith dinner?

    Why didn’t priests preach about the need to support a pro-life candidate? Because the pro lifers were Republicans and the Church has historical fidelity with the Democrats?

    Why did the Catholic Church in America blast Paul Ryan for suggesting a change to Medicare?

    It was clear in 2008 that Obama was a pro-abot. It was clear Romney wasn’t. The Church in America has continuously jabbed the Right while siding with the Left.

    The Church blasted REagan for going to war, yet gave Obama a pass. There is no peep about lives lost at Benghazi, about the duplicity of the administrations wasting funds i.e. Solyndra, about the lies being told the people, or about the enormous debt, enormous job loss … the waste of this present administration.

    Should we really be surprised?

    • It was clear in 2008 that Obama was a pro-abot. It was clear Romney wasn’t.

      It would be more accurate to say that Romney was less pro-abortion than Obama. Romney was just one of a long string of Three Exceptions Republicans that have been around the anti-abortion lobby’s neck like an albatross for years.

      • JR

        Let’s not split hairs. There isn’t a “perfect” candidate out there. The point is that the American Catholic Church supported Obama when it was clear he was proabort. It was the Catholic vote that placed Obama in office.

        Really — why did Card. Dolan invite Obama to the Al Smith dinner? To say it was etiquette is weak. Catholic hierarchy (not all; most) tend to be Democratic in spite of Church teaching.

        • Adam__Baum

          “There isn’t a “perfect” candidate out there. ”

          No, but when the choice is barely mediocre and awful, you either vote barely mediocre or not at all.
          Politicians are like diapers, and should be changed frequently for the same reason.

  • DonkeyKing

    Day late, dollar short. The ACA is here to stay. Live with it.

  • Pingback: PowerLinks 11.04.13 | Acton PowerBlog()

  • Bob

    Article below from the Wall Street Journal on how the cancellation of all these policies were by Obama political design.

    We will be all herded by cattle and sheep into the Obamacare exchanges whether we like it or not.

    It’s interesting from a morality point how Obama has no problem lieing to all of America. His administration and his media/political supporters all have no problem giving Obama air cover by lieing also. Why do these people have no problem lieing?

    Also, apparently one of the executives at one of the web companies that designed healthcare. Gov was a close friend of Michelle Obama’s at Princeton. I believe it was a no bid contract, given to this company.

    I’ve been involved on the business end of healthcare for 25 years dealing daily with Medicare, Medicaid, etc. Believe me when I say that we are looking at a future of sub standard healthcare in the country because of Obamacare. One of many examples is the medical device tax attached to the law. The majority of companies doing incredibly innovative work for future medical therapies and devices are start ups with 25 or less employees, subsisting on thin margins until they can bring their inventions to market. This tax will push some of these companies over the ledge, effectively out of business.

  • Bob

    Obama lie number two: “If you want to keep your doctor, you can keep your doctor.”

    See link below, many top hospitals will be not accepting Obamacare (opting out), or only accepting one or two of its plans. If you want the best treatment, or your top rated physician is affiliated with that hospital, you might be shut out if you have an Obama plan:

  • Bob

    Obama lie number three: “Abortion services will not be included in the Affordable Care Act.”

    See link below, abortion will definitely be provided and paid for by the state plans. In fact, Sebelius in an April memo has ordered Obamacare plans to cover Planned Parenthood clinics. Planned Parenthood should grow to a $2 billion entity under Obamacare:

    “This April Kathleen Sebelius issued a regulation ordering health insurance companies to cover Planned Parenthood Clinics in their state exchange plans. In addition, Sebelius’ HHS has labeled pregnancy as a ” preventable disease” requiring all health insurance providers to cover 100% potentially abortion-inducing, cancer-causing contraception in every health insurance nationwide.”

    Pregnancy is now a “preventable disease.” Yet another offense from human dignity from Barry Obama.

  • Bob

    List below of recently expanded state Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act that will be paying for abortions. This should increase abortions because in the past abortions were mostly cash business. Now you can get a free abortion, which helps fulfill Planned Parenthood’s goal of making abortion a backup contraceptive when you forgot to take your Pill or used a defective condom. Your tax dollars, at work, Maggie Sanger would be proud:

  • Pingback: Bishops Oppose ENDA -