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ELCA Task Force Urges Interdependency for Health Care System

Feb 06, 2003 06:34 PM EST

CHICAGO - The Task Force on Health and Health Care of the Evangelical Lutheran Chruhcin America (ELCA) emphasizes the need for an interdependent health care system in a possible social statement on health care. The task force was appointed by the ELCA Divisoin for Chruch in Society after the ELCA's 1999 Chruchwide Assembly asked for a proposed social statement on health care. When the division's board meets on Feb. 20-22, it will consider adopting the proposed social statement and asking the ELCA Church Council to transmit the document to the 2003 Churchwide Assembly for possible approval. "Throughout the document we want to say as clearly as we can that health, health care and healing are interdependent realities in our lives," said the Rev. Herbert E. Anderson, task force chair. "We have individual responsibilities for our health. We have social responsibilities for the health and well-being for ourselves and for all the people with whom we live," he said.

Anderson, an ELCA pastor, is director for pastoral care and congregational life of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle. "Our assignment was to articulate a theological formulation for health, healing and health care," Anderson said. "We were also asked to provide a framework for thinking about the health care practices among the various agencies and affiliated agencies of the church which engage in health care services," he said. "We were asked specifically to address the access question -- the moral dilemma and puzzlement in our society," said Anderson. "How shall we ensure that all people have adequate access to health care?" "Our way of addressing that is as part of 'our shared endeavor,'" said Anderson. "It's not the responsibility of just one unit in society. It's all units working together," he said.

Task force conversations often came to the conclusion that there is no health care "system" in the United States, said Anderson. "Fragmentation in health care is part of the reason why people don't get adequate care, aside from cost and all the other factors that are at work," he said.

"Government alone cannot solve it. The church cannot solve it. Third-party-payment people cannot solve it alone. It must be a shared endeavor," said Anderson.

"A part of my worry in this process has been that the issues in health care are changing so rapidly that the statement would become obsolete by the time we finish the process," said Anderson. "We want this document to be an enduring influence and contribution," he said. "We can't always be as concrete about the present situation as some people would like us to be. Nowhere in the document does it say anything about how many million people are without adequate health care insurance, for example, because that would date it," he said. Anderson credited the makeup of the task force for keeping the document fair and for making it a bold proposal. "The vast majority of people on this task force are lay people. We have three physicians, a professor of nursing, a professor of insurance -- people practicing in health care fields," he said.

"The task force appointed by the Division for Church in Society deliberately included people with different perspectives and experiences about healing and health care," said Rev. Ronald W. Duty, associate director for studies, ELCA Division for Church in Society. "Task force members attended 29 hearings across the church. "They got a picture of what the people in the church were experiencing and thinking from an even more diverse group," Duty said. Interest in the process has been high across the 5.1-million member ELCA, said Duty. In 2001 the task force issued study materials for congregations, "Our Ministry of Healing." The booklet "was so popular that it sold out, and we continue to get requests for it," he said.

The hearings and "hundreds of written responses" to the study materials informed the writing of the proposed social statement, said Duty.

The ELCA Churchwide Assembly is meeting under the theme "Making Christ Known: For the Healing of the World." It shares that theme with the Tenth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Aug. 21-31 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The ELCA is one of 136 Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition that make up the LWF, which represents 61.7 million of the world's 65.4 million Lutherans.

By Michael Moon