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Roy Branson Leads Discussion of “God and the American Health Care System” at LLU

Roy Branson, Associate Dean of the Loma Linda University School of Religion, convened a discussion of health care reform in the United States on Sabbath afternoon, November 7. Branson and his panelists were especially interested in the possible impact of current proposals on faith-based health care institutions. DVDs of the event are available from Dawn Gordon at (909) 558-4956 or
The four members of Branson’s panel, who shared their views at the university’s Frank Damazo Amphitheater, included Ruthita J. Fike. She is the Chief Executive Officer and Administrator of Loma Linda University Medical Center. Daniel Giang was also on the panel. A neurologist, he is Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education at the LLU School of Medicine. Joan Sabate’ was a third panelist. Also a medical doctor, he is Chair of the Department of Nutrition at the university’s School of Public Health. The panel also included one specialist from elsewhere: Nicholas J. Kockler, Associate Professor at the Bioethics Institute at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
Coincidentally, only a few hours after the approximately 220 attendees had departed, the House of Representatives in Washington, D. C. narrowly approved legislation that will make major changes when it is integrated, after likely modifications, with what the Senate eventually decides.
Ruthita Fike, who distributed a summary of H. R. 3962, the legislation that was being considered in Washington, D. C. as she and the others spoke, said she possessed an “optimistic gene.” She also distributed a statement by the Adventist Health System regarding the health care reform. Although it includes no theological or ethical themes, it respectfully addresses a number of practical issues.
She expressed concern about the difficulties medical institutions will face if the reimbursements from insurance companies and the government do not cover actual costs, which is already the case in many instances. Because at the present time it takes care of so many medically indigent patients without adequate reimbursements, many more than most other hospitals in California, this could intensify existing “major challenges” for Loma Linda University Medical Center. Yet she left the impression that she and her team of administrators are facing these possible stresses with courage and cheerfulness.
Joan Sabate, who is known around the world for his research on the health benefits of certain nuts, reminded the audience of significant and sizable contributions that SDAs have made to the public’s health. The first Adventist Health Study’s identification of the dangers of tobacco smoke, which led to the United States Surgeon General’s warnings against tobacco products, is an example. Later research on the dangers of “second hand smoke,” which led to the prohibition of smoking in airplanes, is another.
Adventist contributions like these will become increasingly important as the nation attempts to contain health care expenditures by promoting more healthy lifestyles. Sabate also spoke of his positive experiences with universal health care when serving as a medical doctor and professor in Barcelona, Spain.
Although he made it clear that among the physicians at Loma Linda University his is a minority position, Daniel Giang spoke well of universal access and a single-payer plan. He reported that the years he spent in a neurology residency in Rochester, New York had influenced his thinking. This is because a number of major corporations in the area that employed almost all of its people, including Eastman Kodak, had developed their own health care plans that for all practical purposes provided universal access. This was his positive experience. One of his negative ones was hearing the suggestion that a patient, a woman who was suffering from multiple sclerosis, and her husband divorce so that she could qualify for financial support. “This is not the sort of thing I had in mind when I entered medicine,” he sighed.
Nicholas J. Kockler emphasized Christian theological and ethical themes more than the practical aspects of impending health care reform. “The preferential option for the poor,” a concept that Roman Catholic thought and other Christians frequently, was especially important. He also highlighted the healing ministry of Jesus, the communal body of Christ and the principle of subsidiarity that mandates that administrative decisions be made at the lowest—the entity closest to the situation—possible level. He held that statements by Roman Catholic bishops over the years had helped shape Christian consciences and public policy.
“What does all this have to do with God?” was the first inquiry the panel received during the time for questions and answers. Although he disavowed speaking for God, Branson swiftly drew the audience’s attention to a number of theological resources. One of these is the Sabbath with its mandated rest for male and female slaves. Another is the “Year of Jubilee” in which slaves were to be set free, debts forgiven and the land allowed to lay fallow. Jesus drew upon this in his inaugural sermon. Accord to Luke 4: 1 – 19, citing the Old Testament, Jesus declared that he had come to bring good news to the poor, release the captives and let the oppressed go free. Reminding the audience that, with more than 10,000 employees, LLU and its various institutions is one of the largest influences in the area, Branson suggested that it take seriously its opportunities for enhancing the common good. “Let us remember that we are not a small and weak group on society’s margins,” he appealed.
There were many other questions that addressed more practical matters. These included financing the new way of delivering health care, its impact on the daily work of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, the care of undocumented residents the lifestyle causes of many major illnesses today.
This is one of two major discussions of anticipated changes in health care delivery in the United States at Loma Linda University. This weekend, on Friday evening, November 13 and throughout the day on Sabbath, November 14, James Walters will convene several major sessions exploring “Adventist Health faces Universal Access: Historical, Theological and Applied Perspectives.”
(Painting: Thomas Eakins, The Gross Clinic, 1875.)

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