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Canadian Council of Churches informs US healthcare debate


Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton, General Secretary, Canadian Council of Churches.

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August 21, 2009
- Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man.Christians in Canada are inviting fellow Christians in the United States to consider the Canadian healthcare system as health care advocacy that is “directly related to God’s call to discipleship.”

A letter from the Canadian Council of Churches to sister bodies in the USA acknowledges that while the Canadian system is not perfect, it is an attempt to view healthcare as “a moral enterprise” and quotes from Matthew 25, “for I was sick and you took care of me.”

President Barack Obama’s health care reform bill has spurred furious debate in the US. The bill would allow un-insured persons to purchase health care insurance from the government, with subsidies for those unable to afford the premiums. About 46 million US residents currently have no healthcare coverage at all.

Citizen opposition to the bill has seen violence erupt at public protests. North Carolina Democratic Rep. Brad Miller said his Washington office received a death threat warning him not to support the bill.

The Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton, General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC), wrote the letter on behalf of the CCC’s 22 member denominations, “an issue on which we have policy already firmly established,” said Hamilton, adding that the CCC’s Ecumenical Healthcare Network is a “CCC committee of long standing.”

The letter is addressed to representatives of the National Council of Churches, The United States Council of Catholic Bishops, and the National Association of Evangelicals – each of whom has member denominations that are also encompassed by the CCC. The letter seeks to “share some of our experiences and reflections in similar debates that have taken place, and continue to take place, in Canada,” clarifying that “We have no wish to advocate specific positions on the various public policy options being proposed by politicians in your country.”

A recent television ad in the US featuring Shona Holmes of Waterdown, Ont., sharply criticizing Canada’s healthcare has heated up debate among Canadians. Holmes mortgaged her home for $100,000 to seek surgery at the Mayo Clinic when Canadian doctors said she would have to wait several months for an operation to remove a growth near her pituitary gland. The ad is sponsored by Patients United Now, a group that opposes Obama’s healthcare reform bill.

Hamilton’s letter provides a brief history of healthcare reform in Canada, explaining how Canadians arrived at the system they have today – and references the role churches played in the development of its publicly administered, single-payer system.

“Canadian churches wanted health care for all,” writes Hamilton. “We rejected a structure that would force thousands into bankruptcy due to unforeseen medical expenses, would promote different levels of service in the many disparate regions of this vast land or would end health insurance for those who found themselves unemployed, for example.”

Tommy Douglas, a Baptist minister turned politician, is widely acknowledged in Canada as the “Father of Medicare.” He was voted "The Greatest Canadian" of all time in a nationally televised contest organized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 2004.

The CCC letter is also copied to the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Robert J. Suderman, General Secretary of Mennonite Church Canada – whose denomination is a member of both the CCC and EFC – said that the letter also helps inform Canadian Christians. “It reminds us about who we are, and what frame of reference is important to us as faithful believers,” said Suderman.

Asked what the CCC hoped to achieve with the letter, Hamilton responded that, “It is not so much that we wanted to ‘achieve’ anything as to be a pastoral support, in Christian love, to our American sisters and brothers. If our experience can be of any help to our sisters and brothers, we offer it.”

The full text of Hamilton’s letter can be found here.