Distinguished Jewish professionals in the Atlanta community spoke during a panel discussion last night concerning health care reform.
“Jewish Perspective on Health Care Reform” was sponsored by Hillel and co-sponsored by medical fraternity Alpha Epsilon Delta (AED), JHealth, Center of Ethics and College Student Interest Group in Neurology (COSIGN) and featured speakers with varying opinions.
College sophomore and Hillel Vice President for Israel Advocacy Jordan Stein moderated the event and opened the night with a question about where the issue of health care lies in the scheme of Jewish values.
To Rabbi Analia Bortz, the most important aspect in providing health care is to increase a person’s quality of life.
“It is about providing what the people need,” Bortz said.
Stein asked the panelists whether the responsibility to provide health care lies in philanthropy or whether health care is a fundamental right.
Michael Broyde, professor of law and director of the law and religion program at Emory, said that the Jewish tradition does not necessarily have an answer to the question.
“If private philanthropy can cover medical needs, a government mandate is not needed,” Broyde explained. “But if private philanthropy groups cannot provide for our needs, the government has an obligation to step in.”
Samuel C. Dobbs Professor of Anthropology Melvin Konner said that to him, saving a single life is like saving the entire world.
“So what do you do by saving many lives?” he asked, adding, “Providing health care is not voluntary. It’s an obligation.”
Bortz cited Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides as a source explaining the necessity for health care that provides for both the poor and the wealthy.
“Even Maimonides said that we must look for a doctor in every society,” Bortz said and explained, “If we are healthy, we will be able to move forward in society.”
From this point of view, she said, providing health care is a “collective responsibility.”
Konner pointed out that everybody in Israel is required to have health insurance by one of its four major providers.
“The United States stands out like a sore thumb today on the issue of health care,” he said.
Broyde, however, said that he was against the idea of looking to other countries as an example and a model for health care reform.
“To me, examining specific countries is a nice exercise, but I don’t really care. It’s not important to me. What Israel does is what Israel does,” he said.
What works for one community, Broyde added, does not necessarily work for others.
“The Jewish tradition says, ‘Do whatever works,” Broyde said. “For example, the Jewish tradition says we must put out fires. Do they ask, ‘What color should the truck be?’ or, ‘Should we have a dalmation?’ The Jewish tradition does not have an answer, as long as we put the fire out.”
Konner said that the status quo makes the country uncomfortable because large numbers of people are left without health care.
Bortz said that in the case of life, it is her opinion that the state should be responsible for giving everybody a chance.
The goal, Broyde said, is not to provide everybody with the best health care available but rather, to provide everybody with the minimum quality care necessary.
“If you can’t pay for [the best] health care possible, you don’t get it. It’s life,” he said. “Wealthier people just will buy the nicer suit coats.”
In response to Broyde, Konner joked, “A rich miser and a fat goat are of no use until they are dead.”
A member of the audience asked the panelists how deep sectarian differences should be dealt with in health care under Jewish values. She emphasized the idea of universal health care, explaining that while everybody in the community contributes, not everybody wants to support services such as abortion.
“We all have a responsibility to cure,” Bortz said, explaining that doing what is best for the patient is what is most important.
Konner said that there were two ways of dealing with the issue.
“That has to be solved on a basis of negotiation,” he said, and if the provision could not be negotiated, suggested, “Maybe it would have to be solved on a private level.”
Broyde, however, dismissed the question as a trivial detail.
“We shouldn’t be focusing on this 1 percent of the issue,” he said. “Instead, we should be focusing on the 99 percent of the issue: that poor people do not get health care. It’s important not to get sidetracked by these small details.”
While the panelists disagreed on how to deal with those deeply rooted differences, all three agreed that health care should be adjusted based on an individual’s personal habits.
“It’s society’s responsibility to provide, but we also have an individual responsibility to take care of ourselves,” Bortz explained.
She told the story of an 18-year-old who was on the top of a list to receive a heart transplant. That individual, she said, made the choice not to take the necessary medications and as a result, was moved to the bottom of the list.
By the end of the night, the panelists concluded that while Jewish values necessitate health care that provides for the entire community, the method through which that can be accomplished is not clear.
“The Jewish tradition mandates that the poor must have access to health care. The Jewish tradition does not know how to fulfill that mandate, but says that it must be fulfilled,” Broyde summarized.
Stein said that he was pleased with the diverse group of people in the audience.
The goal of the event was to observe the health care issue in a different manner, through a culture and religion, he said.
“It’s important for people to realize that as heated as the debate can get, it does not always have to be a political issue,” Stein said.
— Contact Alice Chen