Commission of Social Affairs of the CCCB: Open Letter on the Future of Health Care in Canada

Wednesday, February 27 2002

This month, the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, led by Mr. Roy J. Romanow, Q.C., released its interim report entitled Shape the Future of Health Care. While the first phase of the Commissions work was related to fact-finding, the next phase initiated by the release of this report is to focus on engaging Canadians in a national dialogue on the future of their health care system.1

The Social Affairs Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) encourages all persons who care about the nature of our shared existence together to respond thoughtfully to this important invitation to define the future of health care.

Ever since the beginnings of our country, the Church has been involved in healing ministries in hospitals, homes for the chronically ill, the elderly and other vulnerable members of society. The Churchs constant concern for, and outreach to those in need, has been a defining feature of such ministry. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops was concerned with the issue of health care for Canadians long before our Commission began writing and organizing conferences on the subject of medicare in the 1960s. The Social Affairs Commission was a founding member of the Canadian Health Coalition (, and maintains a strong relationship with the Catholic Health Association of Canada ( with a bishop serving on its board.

Just last year, the Social Affairs Commission wrote to all members of Parliament, asking them to consider the pressing need for homecare and pharmacare programs in Canada. This deep concern continues today by working ecumenically to organize a Roundtable on the Future of Health Care in Canada on Parliament Hill (28 February 2002) in which a bishop from each region of Canada has been invited. Additionally, we will be participating in the preparation and presentation of a brief to the Romanow Commission.

To reflect upon the type of health care system that Canadians desire not only calls upon us to respond to our deepest values, but also challenges us to reconnect with our most cherished aspirations for building communities where people care for each other by sharing the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of women and men of this age (Vatican II, 1965 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, no. 1). According to the Gospel of John, Jesus came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. The call to participate in todays health care debates is an echo of Jesus call to his followers to bring abundant life to our neighbours and to our communities.

The Christian community has much to offer. As John Paul II has so eloquently stated in this years message for the World Day of the Sick, our faith can help to give meaning to the commitment of those who in many ways lovingly concern themselves with the sick and the suffering: doctors, nurses, technicians, volunteer workers. All this is an expression of comfort and healing for the sick. The values that we propose be reflected in a health care system should also be useful and even prophetic guides for those charged with making the important decisions that lie ahead.

Many varied studies have been made in recent years on issues of health care in Canada, such as the National Forum on Health (1997) and the current Senate Review. There have also been several provincial studies, such as the Fyke Commission in Saskatchewan (2001), the Clair Commission in Quebec (2001) and the Mazankowski Report in Alberta (2002). Recognizing the fact that health care is a responsibility of the provinces, Canadians want to see real solutions to the challenges facing our health system. We encourage all social agencies and community organizations as well as Christians involved with this question to make their views known to Mr. Romanow through letters, via e-mail, by using the toll free telephone number or by attending one of the 18 days of open public hearings that the Commission plans to host. But even more than this, we strongly encourage all to share their reflections with their provincial health ministers.2

No one should feel that his or her views are unwelcome. In spite of the need for careful study, this is a matter that is far too important to be left only to experts. It is, however, definitely a discussion in need of the input of Christian values, namely concern for the life and dignity of the human person, human equality, community participation, solidarity, subsidiarity in decision-making, respect for the rights of all health workers, and the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable.

Indeed, as we pray Psalm 34, the Lord hears the cry of the poor, we might well remember that it is often through our own actions that these cries are heard. For Christians, it is a right, but also a responsibility, to raise our voices appropriately during such important public policy debates.

We pray for the loving guidance of God who gives abundant life to assist this consultation process on the future of health care in Canada.

Most Reverend Jean Gagnon
Auxiliary Bishop of Quebec and Apostolic Administrator of Gaspé
Chairman, Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs

1. See or call 1-800-793-6161 for more information.
2. To share your views with the CCCB Social Affairs Commission, write to the CCCB at 90 Parent Ave., Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 7B1 or e-mail