As Christian physicians and dentists we recognize that increasing treatment capabilities and increasing treatment costs, as well as societal priorities for the allocation of dollars, make it difficult to provide all people with all services which they might need (or perceive they need). Therefore, as individual practitioners, as a profession and as a society, we are often faced with difficult allocation decisions.
The scriptural principle of justice requires us to treat patients without favoritism or discrimination. The scriptural principle of stewardship makes us, individually and corporately, accountable for our decisions about the provision of medical and dental care. The scriptural principles of love and compassion require that we place the interests of our patients and of society before our own selfish interests. Recognition of the finitude of human life, along with the higher calling of eternal life with Jesus, should help Christian healthcare professionals resist the disproportionate expenditure of funds and resources in an effort to postpone inevitable death. Christian healthcare professionals, however, must never intentionally hasten the moment of natural death, which is under the control of a sovereign God. (see Standards For Life*)
Christian doctors have a responsibility in helping to decide who will receive available health care resources. To refuse that responsibility will not prevent allocation decisions, but will instead leave those choices to institutions and individuals with purely utilitarian or materialistic motives. If this happens, allocations may generally shift toward people who have wealth or other forms of privilege, which is not the biblical way to value human life.
We must be sensitive to the unmet health care needs of most of the world compared to the position of great privilege we enjoy in the United States. As Christian doctors we must seek to address the suffering of the international community through our personal actions and through our influence in public policy decisions.
Public Policy Concerns:
Society must evaluate its total resources and be certain that adequate dollars are made available for the health care needs of its people.(see Standards for Life**) This involves the understanding that choices must be made between the value of health care and the competing values of lifestyle, entertainment, defense, education etc. Society must minimize waste caused by unnecessary administrative and malpractice costs. Waste can also occur in expenditures for ineffective or unproved therapies or by funding perceived, rather than true, healthcare needs.
Society must also make decisions regarding the allocation of resources to individual patients but should not place patients in the situation of choosing less effective care because of costs. These decisions must always be made with compassion and recognizing the inestimable value of human life. The choice between similarly beneficial therapies may be made on the basis of cost in order to maximize resources. Limits on therapeutic and diagnostic procedures may need to be based on cost and outcome. Outcome assessments based on "Quality of Life" determinations are problematic. We need to remember God's great love for all individuals and the great value He places on each individual life regardless of the world's valuation of that life. Purely utilitarian considerations should not determine the allocation of absolutely scarce, lifesaving resources (e.g. transplantable organs). All humans are equal in the eyes of God.
Society must recognize the value of research in continuing to improve the healthcare of its people, and must therefore allocate adequate funding for promising areas of research.
Professional Practice Concerns:
Christian doctors should earnestly examine their lives and practices and prayerfully seek God's guidance about their charges for professional services. They must be careful not to offer unnecessary diagnostic and therapeutic interventions. They should be actively involved in the provision of professional care for the poor and uninsured. Doctors should offer the best care available and inform their patients if that care isn't covered by their insurance plan. Whenever equally beneficial therapies are available the doctor should offer the less expensive therapy in order to benefit others who might use the resources.
The practice of medicine at the level of the individual doctor is primarily an exercise in mercy. Society, because of limited resources, introduces the concept of justice. We as Christian doctors must strive in our practices and in our society to model the person of Christ, and His grace.
* See statement titled "Physician-Assisted Suicide"
** See Statement titled "Health Care Delivery"
Approved by the House of Delegates