Health care, stem cells, ex-offenders top '08-'09 priorities - Catholic Courier

Health care, stem cells, ex-offenders top ’08-’09 priorities

Support for access to health care, ethical research into stem-cell therapies and the reintegration of ex-offenders back into society have been selected as the top priorities for the diocesan Public Policy Committee in 2008-09.

Access to health care will be the 2008-09 advocacy issue, and thus become the subject of a diocesanwide petition on Public Policy Weekend, which is slated for Feb. 7-8, 2009. The educational priorities for 2008-09 are “Support for Ethical Stem-Cell Research” and “Prodigal Sons and Daughters: Easing the Transition from Incarceration to Home and Community.” The Public Policy Committee also will continue its education efforts on last year’s priority of “Faithful Citizenship” through the end of this election season.

The church’s position on the health-care issue is that sufficiently and fairly financed health care should be available and accessible to everyone, including the poor and vulnerable, and that health care should be prevention-oriented with the goal of improving communities’ overall health.

According to materials provided by the Public Policy Committee, the church also advocates transparent and consensus-driven allocation of resources and safe, effective and high-quality, patient-centered health care designed to address health needs at all stages of life.

“This is something that not every Catholic understands that the church has a position about,” observed the committee’s chair, Father Brian Cool. “Because of the dignity of the human person, we believe that there should be access and affordability for everyone.”

Father Cool said the committee chose health care as its advocacy issue this year because committee members believe the issue is about to become an important priority on the national agenda.

“We can’t just continue to go in the direction we’re going with skyrocketing health-care costs, and we think the next (presidential) administration is going to take a look at that,” he said.

Public Policy Committee members have already started visiting state legislators to discuss the issue, and soon hope to meet with senators and congressional representatives.

The Public Policy Committee chose to highlight support for ethical stem-cell research as an education priority this year in part because New York state in 2007 created the Empire State Stem Cell Board and dedicated $600 million in taxpayer funds to stem-cell research.

“We’re quite concerned that those funds be used in an ethical manner,” Father Cool said. “We’re not against stem cells.”

The Catholic Church strongly supports research and treatments using stem cells that are ethically harvested from adults and children or from umbilical-cord blood, without harm to the donor. Just as strongly, the church opposes both human cloning and research or treatments using stem cells from embryos, which are destroyed in the process of harvesting their stem cells.

The Public Policy Committee hopes that by educating Catholics about the church’s position on stem cells, those Catholics can then let their legislative leaders know how they’d like the Empire State Stem Cell Board’s $600 million to be directed, Father Cool said.

The reintegration of ex-offenders into their communities also is something that’s been of concern to the Public Policy Committee recently, he added.

“For a long time we’ve had a great concern about the violence that we as a nation have been having to deal with and respond to. How do we treat those who have in many ways offended the communities in which they live?” Father Cool asked rhetorically.

Christians are called to minister to the incarcerated and to find ways to reintegrate them into the community once they’re released, he said, noting that the diocese as a faith community should find a way to help facilitate the reintegration process so ex-offenders are not ostracized.

Committee members had such strong feelings about this topic that it was almost chosen as this year’s advocacy priority, but the committee decided instead to focus on educating diocesan Catholics first and helping them learn to look at this issue through the lens of their faith, he added.

“We know there’s a lot to do in this area in terms of education. How do we as a Christian community respond to these people? Do we continue to ostracize, and do we see the judicial system as a rehabilitation system or a penal system?” Father Cool asked.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about the 2008-09 public-policy priorities, visit the diocesan Web site at www.dor.org. Click the link for Catholic Charities, then click on the link for Public Policy on the left-hand side of the Catholic Charities page.

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