Hospitality and Healthcare

"We just want you to know how precious you are." 

That's what Sr. Luke said to us the first night we 20 women pastors gathered at Our Lady of Grace Monastery for the Women Touched by Grace clergy renewal program.  I remember thinking how strange the words sounded, how foreign.  Come on!  We're pastors!  Others rarely treat us like real human beings, much less like precious ones.  In my mind, the response came quickly:  "What you talkin' 'bout, Sr. Luke?"

What Sr. Luke was "talkin' 'bout" was hospitality.  Hospitality is at the heart of Benedictine spirituality (the kind practiced by the sisters at Our Lady of Grace).  And at the heart of hospitality is the ability to see every human being--every human being--as a human being.  Benedict himself said, "All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ."  Reflecting on this Benedictine notion of hospitality, Elizabeth Canham writes:  "Benedictine hospitality comes from correct vision, from seeing every person as a beloved child of God to be received without distinction," (Heart Whispers, p.54)

Here's what I wonder...I wonder how the healthcare debate would change if everyone involved saw every person--every person!--as a human being, full of dignity, beloved of God, and precious, precious, precious?

The debate is not easy.  It is easy to say that everyone should have equal access to healthcare, but funding healthcare for everyone?  Not so easy.  And what about the person I know whose father lives in a country with socialized medicine?  The father had to wait two weeks for treatment after a mild stroke.  One wonders how "precious" the man felt waiting so long for medical care.

It's also easy to say that privatized healthcare is the way to go, but then what do you do about the hundreds of thousands of people without the ability to pay for basic healthcare?  Should they be excluded from a fundamental human necessity simply because they aren't wealthy?  Or what about the small business owner I know who recently had to withdraw healthcare benefits for his employees because of the exorbitant cost? 

A person I know made a trip to the emergency room of a hospital.  Because of crowding, this person ended up in the section for low-income patients, a section he didn't even know existed.  The level of care was quite different from what he was used to receiving in hospitals.  A phone call to a well-known doctor resulted in this person being moved quickly to another part of the hospital.  The experience, though, left him with lingering moral and ethical questions.  Are there really different levels of care for the wealthy and the poor in this country?  Really? 

The more I learn about the healthcare debate, the more complex it seems.  There are no easy answers.  But I wonder at what answers we might arrive if we approached healthcare hospitably.  What might happen to the healthcare debate if all the people involved were treated as real, precious human beings?