The Common Good

Health-Care Polls, Good Will, and the Golden Rule

100224_091022-068-health-careGood will is a primary element of moral conduct. This is an important idea in the thought of philosopher Immanuel Kant. A good will is good in itself because it does not depend upon whether or not the person will benefit from a particular action or not. An individual acting out of a good will considers his or her duty to act in accordance with the moral law.

Kant's test for whether or not an action coheres to the moral law is his Categorical Imperative, which is very close to the Golden Rule that Jesus taught. The Categorical Imperative says: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it become a universal law." The Golden Rule says: "In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets" (Matthew 7:12). So, to act from a good will is to act in accordance to one's duty to do to others as we would be done by -- to ask ourselves what kind of world we would create if everyone acted the way we do.

Sadly, many of our Congress members are not acting with a good will. In advance of President Obama's health-care reform summit, for example, at least one Republican Congress member is saying that the American people oppose the President's health-care reform proposal. He is correct. A recent Rasmussen poll reports that 56% of its respondents strongly oppose President Obama's health-care reform. However, what the Congress member does not say is that in polls where the respondents are told what the elements of the bill are, they approve of the various elements, and support for the bill goes up.

A Newsweek Poll conducted Feb. 17-18, 2010, found the following opinions of the president's plan: opposed 49%, favor40%, unsure 9%. After hearing about the specifics of the proposal, the numbers changed: opposed 43%, favor48%, unsure 9%. Fifty percent of the respondents favor "a government-administered public health insurance option to compete with private plans."

More people in the Kaiser Family Foundation Kaiser Health Tracking Poll believe their families would be better off if the president and Congress passed health-care reform (better off 34%, worse off32%, 26% not much difference). This number goes up when asked if the country as a whole would be better off (better off 45%, worse off34%, not much difference 12%). Thirty-two percent think that Congress should pass legislation that has already been approved while 20% think Congress should pass only those provisions where there is broad agreement. Fifty-nine percent think the delay is due to both sides playing politics.

This Congress member told the partial truth. This is dishonest. This is dissembling. This is unnecessary. There are items in the polls that would support Republican positions. Most people think it is important for health insurers to have the ability to sell across state lines. However, by giving only the facts of the poll that support his position, this Congress member violated the Categorical Imperative and the Golden Rule. The presumption here is that he would not want people to tell half-truths to him or that we ought not to make half-truth-telling a universal law.

What is worse, we have to spend time checking the facts of a poll rather than learning the facts of the various proposals, a combination of which may finally get this country to universal health care. And universal health care is a moral good and ought to be a legislative imperative.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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