This post looks at the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This declaration was made on Dec 10th 1948 – in response to WWII.
Interpretation, thanks to the wonderfully complex and diverse human mind, 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: You will notice that the language of the declaration almost ignores that fact that half the species is female. Why this has not been updated, I do not know. 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) and Article 18. And again in Articles 21 – 23, Article 25 (more on this below) and Articles 27, 29.
I am focusing on some key articles related to the reproductive aspects of what makes us human.
Recently in New South Wales, Australia, abortion took the political stage. This particular issue is one that places interpretation of Rights 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 a broadening of the definition of ‘everyone’ to include potential humans. This is in direct opposition to the pro-choice interpretation which considers reproductive freedom and Self-Determination as qualifiers of life, and ‘everyone’ as natural persons (that is a living breathing human individuals).
This argument also comes up in 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 parent must sadly face this choice if the fetus is not ‘compatible with life’. Choosing to end the pregnancy becomes a dignity to the fetus, along with the many other considerations such as the health (mental and physical) to the Mother.
When Right To Life is not qualified, as with the literal interpretation, it compromises Article 4 (below) of the declaration. The authors of declaration added caveats for quality, which give provision for self determination. The inclusion of ‘liberty and security’ in this article can not be ignored. These two additions, depending on a personal interpretation, allow for an informed decision, based on personal circumstance and belief.
The Pro-Life camp stance at worst ignores and at best undermines the Rights of women and children.
Of particular note, in relation to the reproductive aspects, is Article 4. For many women, and feminists, forced motherhood is a 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 remuneration or appreciation. For Motherhood to avoid Article 4, a woman must have a choice (that is, not be held in). This is a very interesting point, which requires great ethical exploration…for it is far more complex then this posts scope.
The pro-life stance would force a woman to carry and birth a baby and either raise that child or ‘give it up’. This impacts the quality of life for the woman 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 woman they condemn. This is where Article 25 comes in, even if it rather vague (The Right to Quality of Life).
There is one reproductive area of ethical consideration that the declaration could not predict. The Human Rights surrounding genetic engineering, surrogacy, gamete donation . For example, the sex selection debate outline in this article. Where does the child’s rights sit within this? Which brings us Article 16.
Article 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? Does this give the individual the right to determine the genetic make up of the new being?
The technology now exists to manipulate the genes significantly, which will impact 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.
The Declaration of Human Rights is 70 years old. Maybe it needs an up date…but what an insurmountable task that would be! The declaration is often breached, or interpreted to suit a cause or an agenda. Even a seemingly simple neutralising of the pronouns, is unlikely to happen. This declaration is not a stand alone document, there are many legal instruments which flow from it, and declaration itself is not binding….more of a guideline.