The Right to Life and Family

This post looks at the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  This declaration was made on Dec 10th 1948 – in response to WWII.

Thanks to the wonderfully complex and diverse human mind, interpretation means that even though these have been written with great care…perhaps sometimes they are misused.

A short note on the language of the declaration, using article 1 as an example: 

article one universal declaration of human rights

You will notice that the declaration’s language almost ignores that half the species are female.  We can thank Hansa Mehta of India for the wording in Article One…without her influence, it may well say “All Men”.  The second sentence remains disturbing. Article 8, despite referring to ‘everyone’, goes on to use male pronouns.  As do Articles 10 – 13, Article 15, Article 17 (in a particularly disturbing way), Article 18, Articles 21 – 23,  Article 25 (more on this below) and Articles 27, 29.

The following articles are related to the reproductive aspects of what makes us human.

article 3

The declaration’s authors added caveats for quality, which give provision for self-determination.  The inclusion of ‘liberty and security’ in this article can not be ignored.  Depending on a personal interpretation, these two additions allow for an informed decision based on personal circumstances and beliefs. Regarding reproductive rights, we find the interpretation of Article 3 in two staunchly different camps.  ‘Pro-Life’ and ‘Pro-Choice’.  The pro-life camp uses the ‘Right to Life’ as the cornerstone of their stance, with a literal interpretation of the words ‘right to life’ and broadening the definition of ‘everyone’ to include potential humans.  This directly opposes the pro-choice interpretation, which considers reproductive freedom and Self-Determination as qualifiers of life and ‘everyone’ as natural persons (that is, living, breathing human individuals). This difference is important, as giving personhood to a fetus, which can only exist within the mother, dehumanises the mother, disregarding her life, liberty and security.

This argument is related to the ‘right to die’ debate because life is paramount.  Apparently, death is not an option.  I mention this now because, in some cases of abortion, the mother faces this choice if the fetus is not  ‘compatible with life’, an agonising realisation that comes later in pregnancy (one that may be very much wanted).  Choosing to end the pregnancy, using the benefits of modern medicine, becomes a dignity to the fetus, along with many other considerations, such as the mother’s health (mental and physical).

When the Right To Life is not qualified, as with the literal interpretation, it compromises Article 4 (below) of the declaration.

article 4

For many women and feminists, forced motherhood is synonymous with slavery or servitude.  A woman, partnered or not, with support or not, in taking on a pregnancy and/or the subsequent care of the child will experience physical, financial, social and emotional responsibility without proper support.  For Motherhood to avoid Article 4, a woman must have a choice (that is, not be held in). If she chooses to be a mother, as Article 16 refers to, then Article 25 (2) is of particular note.

article 16 wordsArticle 16 declared the right to ‘found a family’.  Does this give individuals the right to ‘found a family’ using the gametes or uterus of another outside the unit?  Does this give the individual the right to determine the genetic makeup of the new being? This is one reproductive area of ethical consideration that the declaration could not predict:  The Human Rights surrounding genetic engineering, surrogacy, and gamete donation.  For example, the sex selection debate outlined in this article. The technology now exists to manipulate the genes significantly, impacting the new being and their progeny.

Technology will soon allow a fetus to be grown in an artificial uterus.  It removes the problem of exploiting women but robs the fetus of a human experience.

article 25

If a Mother has chosen her path, Article 25 suggests that she be provided for and that her ‘provider’ be provided for when circumstances are beyond their control. This Article acknowledges that humans are not independent beings but need family, community and society to support them. Whilst this article looks at this as a basic right and lists some basic needs that can be provided for at a government level where circumstances are beyond his control, Men’s Rights groups push to release men of responsibilities. We know that women who choose or accept mothering are devalued by society, and should a relationship break down, they often struggle to reach an ‘adequate’ standard of living.

Should a pregnancy be compelled or forced to continue, the mother must either raise the subsequent child or ‘give it up’.  This impacts the quality of life of the mother and the resulting child.  The child is forced to live the life determined by this decision (for better or for worse).  ‘Life’ alone is not enough.  Hence Liberty and Security.  And many do argue that the pro-life camp ignores these two qualifiers, to the detriment of the very child they believe they ‘save’ and the mother they condemn.   

This declaration is not a stand-alone document, there are many legal instruments that flow from it, and the declaration itself is not binding.

The year is 1950; the second anniversary of the declaration.  Eight unimpressed-looking children are gathered around a large poster of the declaration. A child is pointing with her middle finger to Article 14, which states:
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

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