May 9, 2014

Health Coverage Options for Catholics (An Open Letter)

"Hi, Donnie!  A young woman asked me to advise her about taking health insurance from a provider that funds abortions. She says she has to do this under state law...  I told her that she had options... She asked me for them... How can she get insurance from a company that does not go along with abortion coverage, etc.?  Thanks!...God bless!"

Dear [Friend],

May the Lord give you His peace! Thank you for sharing with me the concern of the young woman you know about her health insurance covering abortions. I followed this issue very closely after the USCCB gave a primer a couple of years ago about the way in which these abortions would be funded and this is the bad news that has been like a thorn irritating our consciences.

The good news is that there are a few good options out there, as you suggested to her. There are a total of three Christian alternatives to health insurance, called health sharing ministries, whose members are exempt from the individual insurance mandate. Also, for Catholic organizations and Catholic business owners, there is still the option to obtain insurance, along with the Little Sisters of the Poor, from an insurance company run by the Christian Brothers, as long as their battle in court does not fail. This might be the best option for your friend if she works for someone who is Catholic. Otherwise, one of the three health-sharing ministries might work for her:

1) For an individual who is looking for an alternative to insurance that functions just like insurance, Medishare would be the best option, because when you sign up you are given a card that functions just like an insurance card when you present it to your medical provider.

2) For an individual who is looking for the least expensive health coverage option, I would invite them to join CHM, Christian Healthcare Ministries, of which I have been a member for over a year. It is less expensive than Medishare or insurance because I do not have to pay the ministry to negotiate with my healthcare provider to arrange the payment, but rather, I present myself as if I
were a self-pay patient, explaining that I have "something better than insurance," in which my medical bills are shared by thousands of other Christians. As a self-pay patient, I am still entitled to ask for the same discount that they give to the insurance companies, which is usually around 60%. This little bit of effort on my part is the key to keeping costs low for the ministry. Within the ministry, there are three different levels of coverage, the highest of which, for $150/month, covers most medical expenses.  I chose the lowest level of participation, at $45/ month, in which I will be responsible for the first $5,000 (you might call this a deductible) of medical bills from an illness or injury that requires hospitalization, while the rest of these bills are paid by the ministry, up to a certain capped amount. However, even at this level, I was able to join a program within the ministry called Brother's keeper, in which "catastrophic" medical bills above the usual limit are shared among the other members who opt-in to this program. To opt-in to this program costs $40/ yr, and these costs are shared quarterly. Because of the rapid growth of this program, my brother's keeper bill has been very low, around $12/quarter. Also, my most recent $45 monthly bill was waived, because someone else who signed up said that I was the one who referred them to the ministry, and so I got a month free.

3) The third option is called Samaritain: 
*Important Updates: There is now a Catholic version of Samaritain with a group called Christ Medicus There is also a Catholic Ministry just rolled out called Solidarity Healthshare

For someone considering one of the health-sharing ministries, I would encourage them to compare all of the essential details in this handy chart:

Certainly this is good news, and woe to me if I do not share it. I do hope that this is helpful, and that it is more widely shared. I will pray for your friend. Please continue to pray for me.

In Christ,

Donnie Schenck
(513) 849-oo22
CHM Member # 156332

Aug 11, 2013

The Disputed Question Regarding Compliance with the HHS Mandate

["You are the Salt of the earth...You are the Light of the World."]*

Whether or not we, as Catholics, "cannot, will not comply" with the HHS-mandated cooperation in abortion and sterilization? [—Is that a loaded question, or what?]*

1.  It seems that the principle of "double-effect" can be invoked in order to justify compliance with the HHS Mandate.

ON THE CONTRARY: The principle of double-effect can only apply to a single act, which must be good in itself. It cannot be applied to two separate acts, one of which is good and the other of which is bad, because an objectively evil act cannot be justified (We cannot choose to do something evil so that something good might come from it). Caring for the health of a person is a good act, and we must do this. But choosing a means to pay for healthcare services is a different act, and must be regarded as a separate act. Consider that the dignity of the human person demands that the person be cared for regardless of their own ability to pay.

Furthermore: The choice to buy an insurance product (which is designed to use the collected funds to make payments for healthcare services on behalf of those who have bought the product) is, in a sense, a choice to help others to pay for the healthcare services that they receive.

One problem: Abortion, contraception, and sterilization are not healthcare services. They are objectively unhealthy, contrary to the natural functioning of the body and to the very lives, health, or eternal salvation of each person involved in these acts. The choice to buy an insurance product that covers abortion, contraception or sterilization is a choice to help other people pay for these "services" and it is a choice to cooperate in these objectively evil acts. We have, not only the right, but the duty to refuse to cooperate. Consider that our freedom depends entirely on our moral adherence to the truth.

2.  It seems that the concept of "duress" can be invoked in order to justify compliance with the HHS Mandate.

ON THE CONTRARY: The circumstances of duress can indeed lessen moral culpability, but they cannot make an evil act good. Even when people seem to be "forced" to act against their conscience, such a situation is a very great evil, and in a certain sense, it is even "worse than killing them." (YOUCAT, 296) It follows that it would be better to die a martyr than to comply with the HHS mandate, even under "duress." Consider that the early Christians refused to eat meat sacrificed to idols, even to the point of martyrdom—Nor would they agree to burn a single grain of incense to an image of the emperor as if he were God.

3.  It still seems that we are not responsible for the abortions funded by our insurance product.

ON THE CONTRARY: suppose that there is a girl considering abortion, who is covered by an insurance product which we have bought. If she ultimately makes her decision based on whether or not the abortion would be covered by the insurance, and if she therefore chooses to have an abortion, then the insurance product would be "necessary" with regard to the procurement of the abortion, and we [would all be, as a whole, responsible for that abortion, in a "network of complicity" (please see Evangelium vitae, 58-59). Furthermore, those of us]* who knowingly chose this insurance product that pays for abortions, would be formally cooperating in that abortion. This is so serious that we would be automatically excommunicated [if we are aware of this specific penalty]*, so as to bring us, without delay, to repentance, and to the peace of reconciliation with God through the Sacrament of Confession. (please see Evangelium Vitae, 62)

4.  It seems that we have no other options than to buy insurance that violates our conscience.

ON THE CONTRARY: I, personally, was not happy with my insurance before the Affordable Care Act was signed into Law. In fact, it [literally]* made me sick to find out that my plan was paying for abortion and contraception. But when I sat down to read the new law, I discovered that there are alternatives to health insurance called "health sharing ministries," and that members of those ministries will be exempt from the individual insurance mandate. Thanks to this provision in the law, I, as a Catholic and as an individual, have been able to avoid cooperating in what I clearly understand to be a grave evil. Please promote this option to other Catholics and people of good will who object to the insurance mandate on grounds of conscience, and it would go a long way to restoring peace in our nation.

Furthermore: If we, as a nation governed by law, can show respect for the conscience rights of individuals, it wouldn't seem to be too difficult to make provisions that respect the conscience rights of various groups of people as well. With groups of people, there is more than just immoral cooperation to consider. These groups, whether they be religious organizations or family-run businesses, have the right (and the duty) to prevent harmful things from falling into the hands of their children, and this duty is so profound and such an intrinsic aspect of society that society itself cannot survive without it.

In Conclusion:

Some things will never be in our control (or under the control of the government, for that matter). One of those things is the conscience of the people, which is free insofar as it is informed by the Truth, which is not something that we can create on our own, but something which we receive from God and through the natural order of Creation. Let us then be willing, even to the point of laying down our lives, to defend this authentic freedom for every human being, which is the crown of glory given to us by God.

PLEASE, SAY SOMETHING:  A good place to engage in the nation-wide dialogue about this question is on the USCCB Facebook Event Page which was launched for the Fortnight for Freedom. You could also write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.

Feb 28, 2013

"I Thirst!"--A Case Against Euthanasia

This is my great-grandmother, Evelyn. She has since gone to Jesus, but look how beautiful she was for my cousin’s wedding, ten years ago.  It was quite an event: at the reception, she was choking on some roast beef, and I happened to be there to perform the Heimlich maneuver and save her life. Anyone else could have done it, but God put me there at that particular place and time.

People called me a hero, but that wasn't heroic virtue. Heroic virtue is what was called for a year later, when Evelyn was in hospice. Perhaps you have a parent or grandparent who needs more and more help. You may soon be called upon by God to practice heroic virtue. As any good Boy Scout would tell you, "Be prepared."

Do not forget that a moderate amount of nutrition and hydration will keep a person comfortable, and it should be considered ordinary, "everyday" care. The nursing staff will refer to this as "activities of daily living," or "ADLs." To deprive someone of nutrition and hydration when they are nearing the end of their life could actually become the cause of their death, and if it is done deliberately, it would be  "euthanasia." (CCC 2277)

We should be quick to forgive, and slow to judge mistakes in this area, even if this means forgiving ourselves for past mistakes when our conscience becomes better informed. But let us be honest and open to dialogue, because the Truth will set us freeIf the Truth convicts us, let us remember that Jesus Christ is Himself the Truth, and He will show us mercy when we seek Him and acknowledge that we have done wrong.

I am ashamed to say that Evelyn was deprived of nutrition and hydration for the last 6 days of her life. [Up to that point, there were many things going wrong in her body. Drinking was difficult for her, because she would easily inhale it into her lungs. This fluid build-up in her lungs, made worse by her congestive heart failure, resulted in a few bouts of pneumonia. Eventually, she became septic, meaning that the infection had spread to her bloodstream. The septic shock caused vital organs to began to "shut down:" the digestive system was not working properly, the liver was removing less toxin from the bloodstream, and the kidneys were reduced in functioning, although there was still urine output until the last day. However, despite the septic shock and the danger of dehydration, no I-V was given. Perhaps the technology for regulating hydration just wasn't as readily available then as it is today.]  I knew that withholding nutrition and hydration was wrong, but I did not know how to give it to her at the time, and neither, it seems, did anyone else in my family. However, I still wish that I would have pressed the doctor further to address the question of just how much hydration (even if it were just a few drops) that her body would have been able to assimilate, because a week without water is long enough to kill a person.

As we fast during Lent, we are painfully reminded that being dehydrated and malnourished is not a comfortable feeling. As one continues in such a state, the impulses of hunger and thirst may disappear, but they were only the first indications that the body is in need of water and energy. These needs will naturally arise as time progresses, but of course we must honestly address the question, “Is the body capable of assimilating that nutrition/hydration?”

Hydration can be easily given by an I-V, and the flow rate can be monitored very precisely, so that it does not cause fluid build-up in a way that could be harmful or uncomfortable. Also, methods of dialysis can easily remove excess hydration from the bloodstream. We are morally obligated to provide hydration, in whatever small amounts that can be safely assimilated by the body. This issue has caused a lot of people a lot of grief, including myself. But think of the rich man Jesus tells us about who had died, and as he was suffering from the heat of the flames, asked for Lazarus to be sent to dip just the tip of his finger in water, and bring him relief.

Nutrition, also, can technically be delivered directly into the bloodstream. But the last I heard, the current technology for regulating the blood-sugar levels of such a situation is not precise enough for this to be considered safe in all circumstances. If it is true that this is a risky procedure, you are not morally obligated to do it. However, as long as the intestines are functioning well, a feeding tube would be an easy way to provide nutrition, and would be morally obligatory if the person cannot eat for a long period of time.

Also, beware of the DNR and the Living Will, because they can be used to deny care to a person in the case of an emergency. It is best not to sign them at all, or to find some other advance directive forms that are morally acceptable. It is best to set something down in writing to designate friends and family who have good moral judgment, who could be there to help take care of you in an emergency.

Please pray for the people making these decisions:  It is not easyThat's why the struggle to care for our grandparents with an informed conscience should be called "heroic."

When God places you in the position to be present to human suffering, it is best to focus on the positive—consider that it is Jesus Himself who is crying out in thirst, mystically present in the person who suffers. For example, Mother Teresa became a saint because she recognized Christ's voice in that cry of thirst, and she followed after Him:

Feb 17, 2013

"I Will Not Leave You Orphans."--Why God's Plan Will Triumph Over the HHS Mandate

"Christian love leads to denunciation, proposals
 and a commitment to cultural and social projects; 
it prompts positive activity that inspires all who sincerely 
have the good of man at heart to make their contribution..."
--CSDC 6

Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori officially sounded the alarm--faithful Catholics in the United States are being asked to drop their health insurance,  "if they want to preserve their religious and moral integrity " and be true to their "morally well-informed consciences." No longer can we just "keep the status quo." We must discern the real meaning of "keep the status quo," which would present us with a fundamental choice: "keep paying for abortions through your monthly insurance premiums," or "keep [yourself rooted in Jesus Christ, by keeping] the faith, and everything that Holy Church has taught you."

STOP, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and say a prayer...

Why should any member of the Body of Christ have to worry?--Our Father in heaven knows our every need, and by His Loving Providence, He has given us a couple of options for legitimate health coverage, through the prudent additions to Canon Law made by Pope Benedict XVI, in his motu propio, "On the Service of Charity."

But before we explain the solutions, we must understand the scope of the problem:  It has been made clear by every bishop in charge of dioceses in the United States that "We cannot, will not comply" with the HHS mandate. And the sense of the faithful has indicated that, for the faithful themselves, to comply with the mandate would be, in a very real sense, "apostasy from the truth"--It seems that the act of funding an abortion, with at least $1 automatically from each monthly premium, is "by its very nature" [with a necessary connection between the funds and the act] a kind of proximate material cooperation in abortion, and therefore, "formal" cooperation in a sin of grave matter (see Evangelium Vitae, 74).  In this case, it also seems to be an excommunicable offense.  [Let us repent!]  Furthermore, if we fail to withhold the funds levied by this unjust law, it would be a very serious act of omission, by failing to fulfill the grave duty of Conscientious Objection. [Let us take action!]

Basically, Obamacare presents the faithful with a kind of moral dillema:  On the one hand, we all have the moral obligation to provide healthcare for those who are in great need, especially those closest to us, but on the other hand, we cannot do evil so that a good effect may come from it. We cannot buy "a product that violates our conscience"--we cannot buy Obamacare-compliant health insurance, just as we cannot buy a [self-automated robot] pre-programmed to attack babies and the elderly, or a vending machine that will dispense condoms, abortion pills, and vouchers for surgical sterilization, to which one's own children would have easy and free access, without any further parental consent or even notification.


(1)--Join one of the three existing Health-Sharing Networks: "Medishare," "Samaritain," or "Christian Healthcare Ministries." Although these are largely run by Protestants, it may be appropriate to cooperate with our separated brethren in these ministries of Charity, according to article 14 of the Pope's recent motu propio "On the Service of Charity." This would be a good short-term approach.

(2)--The best long-term approach is to form a Catholic version of these charitable ministries in each and every parish across the United States. This kind of thing is what the Pope is specifically asking for in article 9 of the same motu propio. The Holy Father even goes on further to describe how there could be cooperation between neighboring parishes, and even suggests that there could be coordination between neighboring bishops, in article 12, paragraph 2. [Even though Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has retired, this motu propio remains effective because each article was incorporated into Canon Law.] To help get parish-based healthcare ministries started, there is a group membership option under CHM.  According to article 1 of the motu propio, such a parish-based association of the faithful for the purposes of healthcare would need to submit statutes concerning the governing of funds, to be approved by the pastor. The Knights of Columbus already have a good model in place for this, because they were originally instituted for this very purpose, with each council having a Treasurer to assist members in the case of "accident, illness, or need," and a Financial Secretary to collect money and to keep track of the Treasurer.


Pope Benedict cautions against an impersonal endeavor that is limited only to "collecting and distributing funds" (Introduction), noting that the parish-based ministries must "also promote in the whole community educational activities aimed at fostering a spirit of sharing and authentic charity." (article 9) In practice, this means, when we see someone in need, we should first consider if it is possible to help them ourselves, under our own initiatives, before getting the parish-based ministry involved in the matter. [This is our own opportunity to touch Christ in the poor!] This would be a perfect example of the principles of Solidarity and Subsidiarity, after the model of Christ, [the King of the Universe, who does not feel it beneath His dignity to wash us clean, if only we would let him!]

N.B.--There is also a third course of action, which must not be overlooked:
Small Christian Communities. There is a good example of this with Presentation Ministries.