By Bishop Robert Vasa
I have heard it said, not infrequently, that the perfect is the enemy of the good. This has recently been used in reference to the present and ongoing national health care debate. There is certainly some validity to this adage. It can happen that an insistence on a perfect solution can paralyze someone from accepting an otherwise good, prudent and morally acceptable solution, which is marginally inadequate. The application of this adage, however, needs to be done with caution and care lest it be used to justify and rationalize the promotion of the mediocre or even the support of evil. If someone were to acknowledge that the present plan is not perfect because of the abortion coverages in it that would be a serious understatement. If they were further to claim that the plan has so many other good features that an insistence on the elimination of abortion provisions is really a demand for an unrealistic “perfection” then they are in serious error. If they would then claim that this insistence on the elimination of abortion is really the enemy of the good then clearly there is a gross misunderstanding of “perfection.” Seeking a health plan that does not expand abortion is not a demand for “perfection.” It is the barest human and moral requirement. Demanding fidelity in marriage is not demanding “perfection.” It is rather the clear recognition that fidelity is the barest minimum required for a healthy marriage. Marriage without fidelity is not marriage. A program that funds the killing of innocent children is not health care. No one would claim that a fiancé’s insistence on fidelity on the part of his intended is an enemy of an otherwise “good” relationship. Absurd! No one would counsel an affianced to ignore the present infidelities of the intended on the grounds that he or she is really a good, well-intentioned person. No, the infidelity destroys the possibility of an authentic relationship. The provision of abortion funding or abortion expansion destroys the very heart of health care. The demand that such a provision be eliminated is not a demand for “perfection.” Such a demand, in this case, is not the enemy of the good, it is standing in the face of evil.
The American bishops are on record as opposing health care reform that includes coverage or expansion of coverage for abortion. They made this clear when the House was contemplating its bill. At that time they wrote: “We are concerned because the current legislation before the House of Representatives fails to keep in place the longstanding federal policy against the use of federal funds for elective abortion or for plans that include elective abortion — a policy upheld by the Hyde Amendment, Children’s Health Insurance Program, Federal Employee Health Benefits Program and other federal health initiatives. Without such protection we will have to oppose the current legislation until this fundamental flaw is remedied.”
I am not aware of any change in the bishops’ position. Legislation that fails to keep in place the longstanding federal policy against the use of public funds for abortion is fundamentally flawed. This is a lot stronger than saying that such legislation is simply “imperfect.” It is often necessary for us to live with that which is imperfect but a plan that includes funds for the direct and intentional killing of innocent human beings is much more than imperfect, it is nothing short of positively evil. Such a plan could not even be tolerated with a neutrality position much less supported. I do not at all believe it is legitimate to conditionally support such a plan even if there is a “promise” that the objections to abortion will be worked out once the plan is approved. Promises in the political arena are not as binding as other contractual promises.
According to one commentator: The present strategy would leave in place the Senate language on abortion. It would allow health plans receiving federal subsidies in a new insurance marketplace to cover abortion, provided they pay for it only with money collected from policyholders. The House bill, with the Stupak Amendment, would have prohibited the covering of abortion by health plans that receive subsidies from the federal government. The ugly truth is that all policyholders would thus be required to provide funding for abortion coverage whether they approve of abortion or not. Besides involving the federal government in the business of killing pre-born children, such a policy would coerce men and women to pay for a procedure they find absolutely abhorrent. This is a lot more than an “imperfection.”
While it would be easy to spend the rest of this column on health care, doing so would preclude me from mentioning my confirmation trip to St. Patrick’s in Madras and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in Warm Springs. This is an annual trip and it is really one of the easier trips due to its proximity to Powell Butte. It is not uncommon to travel for four or five hours after having had Mass or confirmation and thus spend the entire Sunday afternoon on the road. Being able to arrive home before noon is a treat. There were 38 youth in the confirmation class at Madras and I have found, by experimentation at the last few confirmations, that if I have them all stand during the homily and questioning I am more likely to get a response to questions or at least a reaction. I recognize that this creates a bit more stress for the confirmands but I also recognize that it contributes to making the day a bit more memorable for them. I have seriously “softened” the type and style of questions in an attempt to encourage more of the youth to participate in the answers. The catechists will often tell me, after the fact, that the youth knew the answers but for some reason simply froze or determined that someone else should answer.
Fear, anxiety, shyness, uncertainty, adolescence, self-consciousness and even just plain not knowing are among the possible and legitimate reasons for the silence. In their case I do not either expect or demand perfection.
Such an expectation would be an enemy of the good they do possess and exhibit. Such an expectation would be both unfair and unrealistic.