It was May 1999 and the third visit to the doctor in the space of a few weeks; the ear pains had returned, bringing with them vertigo and nausea. He looked stern. “I think there may be fluid that needs to be drained. You need to see a consultant and quickly; I mean within a couple of weeks. There is a danger of a perforated eardrum and permanent hearing loss”. He scribbled a telephone number on a piece of paper.
Dialling the number brought a brisk and efficient secretary. “You want a public appointment? There would be dates during the second week in August”.
She must have sensed the inaudible groan. “If you’re happy to pay, there’s an appointment on Thursday week at 10.15”.
It cost £150 for the consultation, plus another £500-£600 for the day surgery. It used up most of the money in my building society savings account, but seemed preferable to losing hearing.
Last year, a lipoma close to the spine was causing discomfort. Day surgery was proposed, though this time the health insurance would pay. The chief encounter at the reception area of the hospital concerned details of the insurance cover – this was clearly a business transaction.
Without cash or insurance cover, appointments can take months under the public health provision.
Sometimes the public system is so under resourced that there is not even the capacity to use the facilities available. Last night, the intensive care suite, at which we sat at a bedside, was state of the art. Each bed was in a bay of its own and was flanked by the latest electronic equipment. If one had to be seriously ill, this was the place to be. It was an excellent example of a public hospital, only marred by the fact that there was only the staffing to have open one of the two wings; at a time of a desperate shortage of beds, the other wing stood equipped and empty.
Churches which are quick enough to speak up in defence of their own ethical codes seem silent about the ethics of a heath care system where access to treatment is determined by ability to pay.
The American evangelical Christian group Sojourners has produced its own Christian Creed on Health Care Reform:
As one of God’s children, I believe that protecting the health of each human being is a profoundly important personal and communal responsibility for people of faith.
I believe God created each person in the divine image to be spiritually and physically healthy. I feel the pain of sickness and disease in our broken world (Genesis 1:27, Romans 8:22).
I believe life and healing are core tenets of the Christian life. Christ’s ministry included physical healing, and we are called to participate in God’s new creation as instruments of healing and redemption (Matthew 4:23, Luke 9:1-6; Mark 7:32-35, Acts 10:38). Our nation should strive to ensure all people have access to life-giving treatments and care.
I believe, as taught by the Hebrew prophets and Jesus, that the measure of a society is seen in how it treats the most vulnerable. The current discussion about health-care reform is important for the United States to move toward a more just system of providing care to all people (Isaiah 1:16-17, Jeremiah 7:5-7, Matthew 25:31-45).
I believe that all people have a moral obligation to tell the truth. To serve the common good of our entire nation, all parties debating reform should tell the truth and refrain from distorting facts or using fear-based messaging (Leviticus 19:11; Ephesians 4:14-15, 25; Proverbs 6:16-19).
I believe that Christians should seek to bring health and well-being (shalom) to the society into which God has placed us, for a healthy society benefits all members (Jeremiah 29:7).
I believe in a time when all will live long and healthy lives, from infancy to old age (Isaiah 65:20), and “mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Revelation 21:4). My heart breaks for my brothers and sisters who watch their loved ones suffer, or who suffer themselves, because they cannot afford a trip to the doctor. I stand with them in their suffering.
I believe health-care reform must rest on a foundation of values that affirm each and every life as a sacred gift from the Creator (Genesis 2:7).
Ireland’s public health provision is ahead of that of the United States, but lags far behind that in the United Kingdom where David Cameron, the likely next British prime minister, has a passionate commitment to the National Health Service. If Irish Christians have nothing to say on matters as fundamental as health care, one wonders which Bible they are reading.