how do we treat the sick?

There’s been quite the flurry of noise on the Internet about the American Health Care Act that was passed in the House of Representatives today. Something that caught my attention is an interview with Mo Brooks (R, Rep. AL), in which he said:

‘People who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now, those are the people — who’ve done things the right way — that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.’

Source: CNN Interview with Mo Brooks by Jake Tapper (around 3.20 of the clip)

His statements imply that people who lead healthy (‘good’) lifestyles don’t have pre-existing conditions, which also implies that people who do get sick or have pre-existing conditions somehow did something to deserve their poor health.

Brooks does immediately add, ‘Now, in fairness, many of the people who have pre-existing conditions have those conditions through no fault of their own.’

It’s the earlier statement that is getting the headlines and the attention, and for good reason. The problem here is in placing a moral value on a person’s lifestyle — whether they exercise regularly or diet or eat well — which is what the first statement does: people who lead ‘good lives’, who have done things ‘the right way.’ How, then, do you reconcile the second statement, that those with pre-existing conditions are not at fault for having them, with the first? You have already established the premise that ‘good people’ don’t have pre-existing conditions. So how can someone have a pre-existing condition and not have done something to deserve his or her condition?

This is not a new question. I am reminded of the disciples asking Jesus when they see a man blind from birth: ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ (John 9.2) We might not express it as outright as that, but we still sometimes have that sentiment that if something bad happens to someone, then they probably deserved it: this idea of, ‘Well, they had it coming.’

But we need to remember Jesus’s answer: ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’ (John 9.3)

Granted, in the gospel, the work of God is Jesus restoring the man’s sight, which isn’t exactly something we can expect to happen today (it wasn’t common then, either). That doesn’t mean we can write off Jesus’s answer, though.

Neither this man nor his parents sinned; but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Often I see the focus of this passage placed in the following sentence or in the events after the miraculous healing, to the point that this sentence is overlooked. If this sentence is evoked, it’s usually done after some misfortune or tragedy, along with the platitude, ‘All things happen for a reason’ (with which I politely disagree, but that is another subject).

What are the works of God and how might they be displayed? What does that look like today? Right now, in the wake of the AHCA passing the House, this is what I hear from that passage:

The works of God are displayed in how we treat the sick, the poor, and the needy.

Our words, our thoughts, and our actions: what are they when we encounter someone who is ill? What are they when we encounter someone who is chronically ill or differently abled? Not just how we treat that person as an individual; but how do we treat them as a group when we shape our ideas about health care and when we vote? Are we treating the sick, the poor, and the needy in such a way that it displays the work of God?

I care about this issue. A lot. Because here’s the thing:

I have four pre-existing conditions.

I have anxiety, depression, hypothyroidism, and rheumatoid arthritis. I did not choose to have any of them. None of them are ‘my fault’: there was no way I could have prevented them with a healthier lifestyle. There is no cure for any of them; they can only be managed. I require regular visits with a number of specialists and a daily and weekly cocktail of eight prescriptions to make my body function (not counting over-the-counter supplements and pain killers). These medications literally cost thousands of dollars each month. I also need regular x-rays and lab work and every infection requires antibiotics because my body cannot be trusted to heal itself. I would not have access to any of these things that I require to live and function if not for health insurance coverage.

I did nothing to deserve having a pre-existing condition.

So when you read about the American Health Care Act in the news and about people with pre-existing conditions, think of me. Think of your other friends and family with chronic illnesses. You know people with pre-existing conditions. If you don’t want people like me or your friend or family member to lose coverage or to be unable to afford coverage, then call your senators and let them know.

If you know someone who will be affected by this bill if it passes the Senate, or by a similar bill, be prepared to help them. At the very least by asking them what their needs are and how you can meet those needs; but yes, financially, too, if necessary. Because if that someone is like me, then they need that medicine or treatment to live and function. Without my treatment, I could not work; without work, I would not have an income; without an income, I could not pay rent or buy food, let alone pay for health insurance or my medications out-of-pocket.* We do not deserve to suffer more simply because we are sick. If you are one of those lucky, healthy, abled people, then be prepared to help those who are not as lucky.

Because the works of God are displayed in how we treat the sick, the poor, and the needy.


* If you think I am exaggerating, do a Google Image search for ‘rheumatoid arthritis’ and then tell me I am overreacting.

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