I turned 50 in May. When my physician informed me that I should steel myself for a gauntlet of medical tests, I added my voice to the chorus of people in and out of the health care industry asking, when does the testing get to be too much? When a potentially life-threatening condition is uncovered (especially at an early stage), does it always garner an all-out assault of tests and medications? This is a moral question that deserves to be reflected on within our faith tradition.
Most people agree that the more access people have to preventive health care, the lower the overall cost of treatment. But an overwhelming percentage of Americans don’t have access to it.
We’re strongly committed to looking after our personal health care needs. But how many of us are willing to deny ourselves tests or treatment—especially questionable treatments grouped under the term “preventive care”—to divert financial and medical resources to the least of our brothers and sisters?
We have the capacity to promote health care access for those without it by talking to our own health care providers about their values. When we begin a dialogue with the men and women who speak for the companies, hospitals, and clinics that provide insurance, drugs, and medical procedures, we have the opportunity to speak for and on behalf of those who go without.
The Catholic tradition asks us to keep a few principles in mind as we reflect on this matter. First, life is a gift, and good health is a condition all should strive for as we practice responsible stewardship of our bodies. Good health permits us to fully invest in others’ lives, our careers, and our other responsibilities.
Second, the quality of our health is not a reflection on our dignity.
Third, it’s time to practice proportionality: Tests and treatments should be weighed against the risk of not testing or treating, the cost, and whether monies that will be spent on those tests or treatments would be better spent on preventive care for those who don’t have access to it.
If we each had an annual check-up on our moral engagement with this question, how would we do?