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January 2015 Feature Article

Many people have heard the familiar story about the Good Samaritan that Jesus told in answer to the lawyer’s question: “Who is my neighbour?” It was in the context of the Great Commandment that Jesus declared – to love God and to love our neighbour.  That parable focused on an injured traveler who needed help, not unlike the many injured people on our roads today.  The priest and the Levite (recognized religious leaders) avoided the situation, but the Good Samaritan responded with compassion and care, thus defining the “neighbour” that Jesus meant in His Commandment (Luke 10:25-37).

It is significant that Jesus chose a healthcare scenario to explain Himself. It is a very natural and apt example with which to discuss the issue of human caring. Injury and illness are very real human needs that define our humanity (and mortality), and the true meaning of compassion and care as practical expressions of our God-inspired love.

Healthcare is a basic human need, and the way any society responds to it determines to a great extent the type of social compact that exists in that community. Caring for the sick and injured is something Christian ministry can easily identify with, and has a role to play. Jesus led the way for all of us, by showing compassion and healing of the blind, lepers, paralytics, deaf, mutes, the woman with a bleeding problem, and those with unknown illnesses such as fevers.

When a man with leprosy approached Jesus and pleaded, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” the response was very clear: “I am willing. Be clean!” (Matthew 8:1-3) Those of us called into the health profession would do well to heed the example of Jesus to serve willingly and with compassion. How then should we respond to healthcare needs of our people?

Perhaps the story of the Good Samaritan can give us some guidance. First, we must see the need. The Samaritan saw the injured man and “took pity on him”. The ones who were expected to respond, the religious leaders, didn’t. We have to see what we should see – a fellow human being suffering in need, and have the heart to want to help. We respond either as individual professionals or collectively as a community in the organization of services and programmes to help the sick, particularly needy sick.

Next, we must meet the need. The Samaritan went on to “bandage the wounds, pouring on oil and water” with whatever he had with him at that time. It would be proper for us to do our best in the circumstances, with skill and competence. In our response to health needs, we are reminded of the three important ingredients for a successful and meaningful result – the hardware (facilities and equipment), the software (the application of knowledge and skills), and the heartware (the compassion and care). It is also useful for us to recognize that the need for healthcare is often sudden and unexpected, and it can be great at that point in time. In financial terms, it is quite in order for the ‘haves’ to help the ‘have-nots’ and the well to help the sick.

Last but not least, have good follow-through. The Samaritan passed on the care to the innkeeper, promising to return and pay for the extra expenses. Patients need to be helped as they transit from acute hospitals to step-down care and finally home. The services of St Luke’s Hospital and Eldercare are in that direction – to support families in the recuperation and rehabilitation of their loved ones. So are the many Christian healthcare organizations in Singapore.

Christian involvement in the social development of Singapore began almost as soon as it was founded by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. Education came first, and then followed by Healthcare. Among the early pioneers was the Anglican Mission, which started a clinic for women and children in Bencoolen Street. This was the forerunner of the St Andrew’s Mission Hospital, which was reported by the Straits Times in 1923 in these words: “…the hospital would prove to be a light in a dark place, … ignorance would be replaced by knowledge and understanding; physical distress by comfort and healing.”

Since then, many other organizations have been established including the Anglican Community Services, Methodist Welfare Services, Presbyterian Community Services TOUCH Community Services and now St Luke’s (an interdenominational initiative). We must also not forget the groups that continue to be involved with drug rehabilitation and aftercare, thus making effective contributions to the control of drug addiction in Singapore.

A useful healthcare system is one that gives ready access to all people in need high quality of care at affordable charges to both individual and community. When it comes to costs, it is not about keeping them low at all cost, but giving good value for what we to have to spend. With our focus on holistic care that encompasses physical, emotional and spiritual health, it is a natural platform for Christian involvement at all levels.

We have a proud and credible heritage, which continues to flourish in modern Singapore. As the nation celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence, it would do well for us to celebrate with thanksgiving the many caring services and professionals who have served quietly and diligently the needs of the sick. Even as we move forward to make further progress in building an economically vibrant metropolis, let us never forget there are still many who need care with love and compassion.

The challenge is to continue to provide cost-effective healthcare at reasonable costs, generously enriched with love and compassion.  May God help us.

“Let us not become weary in doing good… Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people…” Galatians 6:9-10


Professor Philip Lee Hin Peng is Head of the Health Systems and Behavioural Sciences and Head of the Chronic Diseases Programme of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore. He is a member of Hebron Bible-Presbyterian Church. These are his personal views.