I think one limitation of this past year’s health care debate is that its focus was almost solely on the means by which to pay for trips to the hospital and visits to doctors. This is of course essential, especially in a society as sick as ours. But health care isn’t just about receiving treatments once people get sick. It’s also about promoting healthy lifestyles that prevent people from getting sick. In this light, health care reform is too broad of a project to be dealt with only by legislators. The generality of the people must contribute their share to the transformation of society if wider problems are to be properly addressed. This can be seen in the gulf between scientific knowledge and its practice by individuals. As the twentieth century wore on, the importance of diet, exercise, and other personal choices became became especially clear to doctors and other advocates of personal health. However in many nations, but especially the United States, the implementation of these scientific insights has proved difficult. A doctor can tell the patient exactly what lifestyle choices she needs to make if she is to correct her unhealthy, often deadly, course. But if the patient doesn’t lift a finger to change her habits, and asks for a prescription for drugs instead, there is little the doctor can do. This suggests that the health crisis is symptomatic of a spiritual crisis, or at the very least an educational crisis.
It is in this light that the Baha’i perspective on health demonstrates its wisdom. For Baha’is, it is a spiritual duty to study useful sciences and apply them to the benefit of oneself and others. And for Baha’is, the life of the soul begins in this world and continues on towards God in other worlds after this one. The focus of spiritual development may be the progress of the soul after this life, but the desire to serve God and benefit humanity that this practice develops can have an impact in this life as well. Namely, it can free a person from slavery to unhealthy appetites and reinforce the discipline needed to care for the body each of us has been given by God.
And what is to be done?
For Baha’is, I think what is essential is that they continue to multiply and develop those programs that have been developed for the training and spiritual education of individuals, e.g. children’s classes, junior youth groups, and study circles. As these lines of action advance, the process of learning they engender can be extended to include lines of action that train and mobilize human resources for the promotion of healthy lifestyles.
And for all people, whether they are enrolled in the Baha’i community or not, they can get involved with activities in their community and contribute to broader public discussions focused on the application of scientific knowledge in our daily lives. This can be pursued through a variety of institutions. Schools, employers, clergy, unions, and other community organizations are all well placed to respond in some measure. But most importantly, we can’t assume our own helplessness. We must promote reform at both an individual and collective level. We must raise consciousness and build confidence that our health is in our own hands, and that initiative, good planning, and effective implementation can transform the world around us. ‘Abdu’l-Baha writes,
Endeavor, ceaseless endeavor is required. Nothing short of an indomitable determination can possibly achieve it. Many a cause which past ages have regarded as purely visionary, yet in this day has become most easy and practicable.
And in conclusion, ‘Abdu’l-Baha writes elsewhere,
Is any larger bounty conceivable than this, that an individual, looking within himself, should find that by the confirming grace of God, he has become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men? No, by the one true God, there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight.
 The Secret of Divine Civilization pp.66
 The Secret of Divine Civilization pp.2-3
Thank you for writing this very timely piece. As somebody who does not have health insurance, AND tries to live a healthy life style partly as compensation, it is much appreciated. In the first part you said
"However as the tragic spectacle has unfolded, the American people have perhaps never been more conscious of the dysfunction and deterioration of those institutions charged with advancing the common interest."
I have been thinking about this a lot lately. It does seem like, at least in the U.S., government has become incapable of enacting any real fundamental change for decades now. I remember Paul Lample, in the early part of "Revelation and Social Reality" talking about the salience of social reality, and how malleable it is to shifts in consciousness. Given its current state, no amount of technocratic effort will make much of a difference. Something needs to change, and it will.