Churches publish Health Care Covenant

By Dennis Gruending

Joe GunnThe Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) has released A Health Care Covenant, a short book that describes the involvement by churches in our country’s various debates about health care. The Ecumenical Health Care Network of the CCC says that it produced the book to “contribute an ethical voice to the ongoing dialogue and debate about the future of health care in Canada.” The publication is a timely antidote to yet another recent report by the Fraser Institute that calls for a parallel private health care system.

A Health Care Covenant is an encouraging book for a number of reasons. It contains clear information about our fundamental health care issues but also provides a moral and spiritual context into which we can place those issues. Beyond that, it is good to know that 21 of our churches are still working ecumenically after a number of years when it seemed those efforts were diminishing. Health care issues are so broad and deep that they demand an ecumenical response.

Canadian churches, as Joe Gunn points out in his historical chapter, have been involved in health care since the beginning. It was a religious order of sisters who founded the first hospital in what is now Canada in 1639. Gunn also chronicles the participation of churches in more recent times. They appeared before the Hall Commission in the 1960s to propose a publicly administered and comprehensive health insurance program. Hall, a Supreme Court judge, recommended medicare for Canada in 1964 and the Pearson government, along with the provinces, put the program into place later in the decade.

The churches were there again, this time under the auspices of the EHCN, to make submissions to the Senate committee led by Michael Kirby and also to the royal commission led by former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romano. The churches asked Romanow to reaffirm the public health system and to call for improvements to it. The churches called as well for the federal government to develop a national pharmacare program. Romanow later told members of the ECHN that it was their brief that prompted him to propose a Health Care Covenant for Canadians in his report called Building on Values.

Nuala Kenny of Halifax is both a medical doctor and a religious sister. In her Foreword to the book she writes, “It is crucial that persons of faith understand that the future of the Canadian health and health care systems are matters of moral import. Visions of justice, compassion and community are at stake. Indeed we are at a cross roads for health policy. Challenges to the values of medicare are real and increasingly dominating the public and political agenda.”

Dr. Kenny continues, “There are many possible responses to these pressures. Most, in Canada, have looked to a careful systemic analysis of the system and suggested an agenda for reform. Others judge publicly funded health care as unsustainable and look to the market for answers.”

It is fair to say that Kenny and the others here believe profoundly that we should reform our public system rather than giving it up to market forces, as proposed by the Fraser Institute and some politicians. Janet Sommerville writes that public health care makes good economic sense. We spend proportionately less than does the United States and we provide care to everyone while in the U.S. perhaps 45 million people go without coverage. Sommerville says that the choice of systems is also a matter of what she calls applied ethics that appeal to Canadians.

Canada,” she writes, “still has a great many people who are religious believers. Even if most of us are shy about saying so in public, we think that the major tenets of our faith should affect our lives as citizens, not only our personal life. And the principles guiding our health care system have an unmistakable affinity with the love of neighbour urged on us by God’s word in Scripture.”

A Health Care Covenant is available from the Canadian Council of Churches for $10. The book can be ordered at and/or 1-416-972-9494 Ext. 21.

Note: This article appeared in a slightly altered form in the October 31, 2007 edition of the Prairie Messenger, a Catholic journal published in Saskatchewan.

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