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Mental health issues dominate recent news

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Health care has been much in the news for months. Readers have learned more than most want to know about health insurance because of the prominence of the Affordable Care Act in news for several years. Just two days ago a soldier went amok at Fort Hood and killed several of his fellow enlistees in cold blood. Days ago Judge Peter Moulton ordered New York’s Administration for Children’s Services to pay for the gender reassignment surgery of foster child DF against the agency’s desire.

As a Jew absorbing the significance of these events it is difficult to know which Jewish values are most compelling. As Jews we are told that healing the sick is an important act of loving-kindness. After all if we are to emulate the Almighty; we should strive to heal just as God does. Yet at the same time Jewish law is centered on a system of fairness and justice. Is it fair or just to allow the rapid escalation of health care premiums that was hastened by the passage of the new health law? Is it fair or just to demand a system that mandates inclusion of practices and procedures that are of no interest or potential use to the insured? Truly it is a dilemma.

Regarding the event in New York there is also a clash of Jewish values. Daily prayers stress the responsibility of each person to protect his or her body. Furthermore, the Jewish heritage emphasizes the concept that all persons are created in God’s image. Is gender reassignment a desecration of that idea? Or does gender reassignment uphold another equally important Jewish idea, the idea of saving a life. If a person truly identified as a member of the opposite sex, should not that person be allowed to change sexes. Jews request the health of the body and the health of the mind every time the misheberach prayer is chanted in synagogue. Might making this physical change to a person’s body remind of the centrality of mental health?

As for Fort Hood, most newscasts seem to emphasize the life of the killer and the lives of his victims. Many right wing pundits have used the calamity as an opportunity to demand that soldiers, trained in the power and danger of their weapons, carry side arms while on station at their bases. They challenge lawmakers to allow freer permissiveness for trained solders, and the pundits cite the second amendment. It was wonderful earlier today to hear Congressman Tim Murphy from southern Pennsylvania react to the mayhem from a fully different perspective. He is a trained psychiatrist as well as a congressional representative. He called on his congressional colleagues to do more to protect soldiers not by expanding rights to carry, but by demanding that they make mental health care more available to those who have served our country. He noted the lack of sufficient psychologists on the VA staff. He also recalled the high number of suicides by those in active military service and recently discharged. He gained notice this week because the perpetrator at Fort Hood was known to be a sufferer of depression and other mental illnesses.

It is unclear exactly what Judaism demands. There is no singular, Jewish way to examine any issue. At the same time, though, there is no freedom to ignore the challenge, regardless of how complex it may be. The job is great, the Master is waiting, and we are not free to delay.

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