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Jesuit spells out dilemma for Catholic health care

Human rights activist Fr Frank Brennan has told Australia's Catholic health care sector that they're faced with choosing between doing what they can for the poor and marginalised, or providing the middle class with "comprehensive health care with a Catholic ethic from womb to tomb".

Fr Brennan was addressing this week's "Just Care" conference in Adelaide, organised by Catholic Health Australia.

"In your dealings with government, you have first to discern whether you want additional resources for service to the poor and marginalised or for comprehensive services to the middle class assured health care with a Catholic ethic from womb to tomb," he said.

"Some Catholic institutions might be emblematic, providing the leaven for the health system extending health care to the most marginalised, and offering health care with a Catholic ethic. But symbols must match reality. There is no point in Mark Latham having access to a public bed in St Vincent's unless his unknown neighbour has the same access."

Fr Brennan also pondered the question of how Catholic health carers can "respect life, preserve life and enhance life", in the context of his own public dispute with Sydney's Cardinal George Pell over primacy of conscience.

He scoffed at media portrayals of their differently-nuanced presentations of the doctine, praising the Cardinal's interpretation for its "strength of identifying what is distinctively Catholic and authoritative".

But he said he prefers the approach of other leaders such as Britain's Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, who said the "starting point for an understanding of the Christian concept of the 'law within the heart written by God' is a consideration of human happiness".

Just Care: Political Reality and Change Frank Brennan SJ, Catholic Health Australia Conference, 6/9/2004

10 Sep 2004