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Published: Saturday, 10/3/2009

Area doctors of various faiths back changes to aid patients

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

As the nation continues to debate health-care reform, some local physicians are hoping for changes that will help them better align their religious and professional concerns.

When taking the Hippocratic Oath, physicians vow "to keep the good of the patient as the highest priority," but the current medical system often creates obstacles to fulfilling that pledge, several doctors said in recent interviews.

"From a religious standpoint, there is a conflict between your own personal beliefs and how you are trained," said Dr. Jay Jindal, an ear, nose, and throat specialist and a Hindu. "You have to take care of people the way you would want to be treated. But not having health care is a barrier to seeking medical treatment."

A specialist in cancer treatment, Dr. Jindal is disturbed by the fact that too many patients put off medical treatment because of finances.

"There are people who are having to make choices between health care and paying the rent," he said. "And with the economy being so bad, even people with insurance are not coming to the doctor's office because the $20 or $30 co-pay is deterring them."

Similar concerns were voiced by local Christian, Muslim, and Jewish physicians and scholars about the morality of health-care reform.

Dr. Amjad Hussain, a retired thoracic surgeon and a Muslim, said all religions oppose discrimination, but in reality it is not possible to treat people equally when as many as 40 million Americans lack health care.

"Religion extends its blessing to all comers; it does not discriminate," said the professor emeritus at the University of Toledo's Medical Center, formerly the Medical College of Ohio. He also is a Blade contributor.

Dr. Hussain said the Qur'an indirectly addresses the morality of health care in Chapter 5, verse 35: "If anyone saves a life, it would be as if he saves the life of all humanity."

"I feel that health care is a human right, not a privilege," he said. "I think it is the responsibility of the society to take care of people regarding their health. For that reason, I see proposed changes in the health-care system fit in with my religious as well as my social philosophy."

Dr. Johnathon Ross, an internist for Mercy, formerly Mercy Health Partners, and a past president of Physicians for a National Health Program, has been speaking lately to local churches about reforms.

"Health care is a human need and as part of our community of humanity we should care about each other," Dr. Ross said. He said he had a broad exposure to various faiths in his life and although he is not affiliated with any religious group, he believes "there is a power greater than us. I know that."

The way money affects the health-care system reminds him of Matthew 21:12-13, in which Jesus angrily chases the money changers out of the synagogue.

"In some versions he even uses a whip to drive them out. He doesn't say, 'Excuse me, please leave.' He's angry. And there's not many places in the Bible where Jesus is angry. And what is the next thing he does? He heals people," Dr. Ross said.

As verse 14 says: "The blind and the lame came to him at the temple and he healed them."

Churches have led the way on many reforms in U.S. history because of moral concerns, Dr. Ross said, including the abolition of slavery and ensuring the rights of working people.

"The churches are beginning to come back to the fight and saying we need a national health system. Almost all religious groups have endorsed the general idea of health care for all Americans," he said. "What has not been happening until now is they have not activated their membership to speak out on a moral perspective."

Dr. Jindal said all religions promote the well-being of people, and that must include access to food, shelter, education, and health care.

"I don't know any religion, including Hinduism, that would exclude or ration health care. I think health care is a very vital part of any religious group, and that's why I think it's important in our country to make health care accessible to all people," he said.

Dr. Dexter Phillips, who founded and ran the Christian Health Clinic in Toledo from 1999 until 2008, believes the current system works fine.

The problem, he said, is the exorbitant costs of defensive medicine that doctors must practice because of legal concerns.

"Doctors are ordering tests they really don't need, but they're doing it to protect themselves and their offices from the legal system," he said.

From 1999 until he closed the free medical clinic last year, Dr. Phillips said the office's overhead was 25 percent of a typical family practice.

"I would only order what I needed because we did not have to protect ourselves from legal suits. And we took good care of the patients," he said.

He fears congressional reforms may ultimately lead to the rationing of health care, "and I don't think that is morally correct."

Richard Gaillardetz, professor of Catholic studies at the University of Toledo, said health-care reform is "not just another policy debate" but a matter of life and death.

In a recent lecture on the Catholic perspectives on health care, Mr. Gaillardetz called health-care reform "a moral issue that calls for an appropriate response from those who claim to be followers of the one who came to heal the broken and brokenhearted."

He cited a Harvard Medical School study that said up to 45,000 people die each year because of a lack of health insurance.

"Jesus healed the sick out of compassion for those who were ill and as a manifestation of his Father's desire that all humans experience health and wholeness," Mr. Gaillardetz said.

Rabbi Barry Leff, a former rabbi at Congregation B'nai Israel in Sylvania now living in Israel, wrote to U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), saying he is still a voting constituent. He urges her to vote for "health-care reform."

"As a rabbi, I believe it is a moral imperative for society to provide basic health care for all."

He said his stepbrother, a craftsman who worked intermittently and could not afford health insurance, died of pneumonia because he was worried about the costs of medical treatment and put off going to the hospital until it was too late.

Rabbi Sam Weinstein of the Temple-Shomer Emunim in Sylvania said Judaism is clear in requiring people to care for one another.

"We have an obligation to care for the unfortunate. That is a very clear imperative in our Jewish tradition - to care for the underprivileged, the orphan, the widow. Those mandates are very clear," he said.

But the debate over health-care reforms is a societal, not a religious, issue, he added.

"From a Jewish perspective, we clearly teach that people are created in God's image and that caring for our brothers and sisters is a very important principle. How that gets translated into policy is, of course, another issue," the rabbi said.

Dr. S. Zaheer Hasan, a neurologist and a Muslim, said reforms are needed but they will require all parties to change the way they view the health-care system.

"The government, the medical profession, and the legal system all have to get their act together; otherwise we will fail," he said.

As the world's most affluent and powerful nation, the United States sets a poor example in how it treats its underprivileged, Dr. Hasan said.

"As Muslims, the Prophet Mohammed said to take care of your neighbors, and we extend that. The neighborhood is wide and everybody in this city is our neighbor," he said.

He would be willing to earn less money as a physician, he said, if it helped to provide health care to the neediest.

"I will take less, but there has never been a day in my life that God has not taken care of me. If I take a little less, he will reward me in ways that I have never thought of," Dr. Hasan said.

Dr. Gunvant Mehta, a retired radiologist and a Hindu, said all religions command people to help those who are less fortunate.

"Religions always teach people to help people in need by doing whatever you can do. I think we have a responsibility to care for the needy," Dr. Mehta said. "There's no question reform is needed. The question is whether the Congress will be able to do the right thing."

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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