I have the wonderful opportunity to belong to a reading group on Thomas’ Treatise on Law. For this week’s reading, we read questions 92 and 93 of the first part of the second book of the Summa Theologicae. Question 92 concerns the effects of law while question 93 concerns the eternal law.
In the effects of law, Thomas argues that law aims to make human beings good. That is, law seeks to make human beings virtuous, either by commanding virtuous actions, forbidding vicious actions, and permitting actions which are not in-themselves vicious.
When we think about the health care law that was recently passed, we have to recognize that its original aim was to make human beings virtuous, first by commanding that human beings are able to care for their own health through affordable health care. Second, it sought to forbid the rampant and egregious increases in health care costs. Third, it sought to allow freedom to individuals to chose their own health care carrier or provider.
Each of these goals align with the idea of a law that seeks to make human beings better. We can go further still: a law that requires health providers not to drop those who have poor health from insurance is necessary. It commands the virtuous action of supporting the common good and forbidding the vicious action of placing profits over the health and welfare of individual human beings. This dual command and forbiddance should be our guide in structuring health care.
The aspect of the law most challenged was that which would require all individuals to purchase health insurance. Without such a law in place, there would not be enough individuals paying premiums to support the health of all. Rather than violating freedom, however, this mandate again encouraged or commanded the placing of the common good over the individual good. It accords with natural law, then.
One of the great problems with American society is our refusal to place the common good before the good of our individual selves. Our hyperindividualism means that we believe each person should pull him or herself up by his or her boot-straps. Natural law, on the other hand, requires us to have a more realistic picture of the frailty of human life and the commonality we share as members of one community.