Keep choice in healthcare

Reform efforts need a broader definition of healing.

Nearly 46 million Americans today are without health insurance. Premiums have doubled in this decade alone. At the same time, the cost of hospitalization and pharmaceuticals has escalated dramatically. So, sadly, many businesses and individuals now find themselves priced out of the market. People who desperately want health insurance often can't pay for it and see coverage as a luxury only the rich can afford.

It's natural, therefore, that healthcare reform – a plan that will guarantee health insurance for everyone – is the subject of intense public discussion. Both presidential candidates offer such a plan, although they take different approaches. And in nearly every state legislature, healthcare reform has become a significant topic. Massachusetts has already adopted legislation mandating health insurance for everyone, except for those who opt out by using accommodations provided in the law. And California, the most populous state, is wrestling with its own version.

Yet some raise a caution, especially in view of current unsettled global economic conditions. They ask whether sweeping healthcare reform will ease – or overload – the burden US taxpayers carry. And legislation alone, they warn, won't necessarily curb the underlying problem of runaway healthcare costs.

Others bring up a different concern. If reform is to deliver on its promise, they say, the definition of healthcare needs to be broadened beyond simply conventional medical treatment. Reform needs to provide for the widest range of responsible healthcare choices. It needs to reach beyond allopathic models alone – to include the broad spectrum of alternative approaches that millions of Americans are now turning to for treatment.

As Christian Scientists, we are in full agreement that Americans must maintain the right to make their own healthcare choices. Our global church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist – was founded to offer humanity the immense benefits of Christian healing as Jesus practiced it. As individuals, the five of us serving on its board of directors are practitioners of Christian Science healing. So we advocate that this method of healing be provided for in any healthcare reform plan the US might adopt.

Why? Because we have seen the effectiveness of treatment through prayer in the lives of people around the world.

For well over a century we've been publishing in The Christian Science Journal and the Christian Science Sentinel verified testimonials by tens of thousands of people healed though Christian Science treatment. In recent issues, as well as on the website, you can read first-person accounts from people healed of brain tumors, kidney stones, prostate cancer (all medically diagnosed), as well as drug addiction and clinical depression.

We believe that those – even someone who might never consider availing themselves of Christian Science treatment – deserves to choose his or her own form of healthcare. Spiritual care, and in fact any credible form of care apart from the conventional medical model, should be included in any state or national health insurance initiative.

Perhaps our point here can best be summarized in one phrase: the benefits of healthcare choice.

Without genuine choice, our society would be quite different from the one in which we live. Choice empowers people to take charge of their own lives. It inspires fresh thinking, spurs innovation, and checks the monopolistic inclinations that would seek to dictate not only how we live but also how much we might pay for our healthcare.

Now, we're not suggesting that Christian Science practitioners are trying to compete with your family doctor or local hospital, or with anyone else for that matter. We and other Christian Science practitioners are concerned with our patients' spiritual well-being, as well as with their emotional and physical well-being. We stand ready to help anyone who chooses Christian Science treatment. And it's this very act of free choice that lies at the heart of the American way of life.

The Bible tells the story of a woman who made what was in her day a radically different healthcare choice. She'd been hemorrhaging for 12 years and, "though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her." So, as she saw Jesus passing by, she desperately reached through the crowd to touch the fringe of his clothes. And "immediately," the Bible says, "her hemorrhage stopped." Then Jesus explained to the astonished woman exactly what had happened: "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace" (Luke 8:43-48).

Today, a groundswell of people are turning to nontraditional cures – and to increasingly spiritual approaches to healthcare. Many have been disappointed by some of the best-intended efforts of conventional medical practitioners. And they're finding that these fresh approaches help them. Many are discovering that, as Christian Science Founder Mary Baker Eddy put it, "The body improves under the same regimen which spiritualizes the thought…." ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 370).

We deeply respect the experience of these people. And we believe it's the task of the democratic process to allow all reasonable voices to be heard on the subject of healthcare, to forge these ideas into something approaching consensus – and then to make law.

Paradigm-shattering innovation is clearly needed in healthcare reform. But it will never come if we simply cement the status quo, affirm conventional wisdom alone, or restrict the public's right to choose the healthcare they find most effective.

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