Bodily integrity

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Bodily integrity is the inviolability of the physical body and emphasizes the importance of personal autonomy, self-ownership, and self-determination of human beings over their own bodies. In the field of human rights, violation of the bodily integrity of another is regarded as an unethical infringement, intrusive, and possibly criminal.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

Government and law[edit]


In the Republic of Ireland, bodily integrity has been recognised by the courts as an unenumerated right, protected by the general guarantee of "personal rights" contained within Article 40 of the Irish constitution. In Ryan v Attorney General it was pronounced that "you have the right not to have your body or personhood interfered with. This means that the State may not do anything to harm your life or health. If you are in custody, you have a right not to have your health endangered while in prison".[7][8]

In a separate case M (Immigration - Rights of Unborn) -v- Minister for Justice and Equality & ors, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that the right to bodily integrity extended to the unborn.[9] In a summary of the case in section 5.19, the Supreme Court stated:

…the only right of the unborn child as the Constitution now stands which attracts the entitlement to protection and vindication is that enshrined by the amendments in Article 40.3.3 namely, the right to life or, in other words, the right to be born and, possibly, (and this is a matter for future decision) allied rights such as the right to bodily integrity which are inherent in and inseparable from the right to life itself.[10]

United States[edit]

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution states "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated". Also, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right to privacy, which, as articulated by Julie Lane, often protects rights to bodily integrity. In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) the Court supported women's rights to obtain birth control (and thus, retain reproductive autonomy) without marital consent. Similarly, a woman's right to privacy in obtaining abortions was protected by Roe v. Wade (1973). In McFall v. Shimp (1978), a Pennsylvania court ruled that a person cannot be forced to donate bone marrow, even if such a donation would save another person's life.

The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade (1973) on June 24, 2022. Conversely, the Supreme Court has also protected the right of governmental entities to infringe upon bodily integrity. Examples include laws prohibiting the use of drugs, laws prohibiting euthanasia, laws requiring the use of seatbelts and helmets, strip searches of prisoners, and forced blood tests.[11]


In general, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms defends personal liberty and the right not to be interfered with. However, in certain unique circumstances government may have the right to temporarily override the right to physical integrity in order to preserve the life of the person. Such action can be described using the principle of supported autonomy,[12] a concept that was developed to describe unique situations in mental health (examples include the forced feeding of a person dying from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, or the temporary treatment of a person living with a psychotic disorder with antipsychotic medication).

One unique example of a Canadian law that promotes bodily integrity is the Ontario Health Care Consent Act. This Ontario law has to do with the capacity to consent to medical treatment. The HCCA states that a person has the right to consent to or refuse treatment if they have mental capacity. In order to have capacity, a person must have the ability to understand and appreciate the consequences of the treatment decision. The law says that a person is capable with respect to a treatment, admission to a care facility or a personal assistance service if the person is able to understand and appreciate the information that is relevant to making such a decision.

Human rights[edit]

Two key international documents protect these rights: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Further the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also requires protection of physical and mental integrity.[13]

The Human Rights and Constitutional Rights project, funded by Columbia Law School, has defined four main areas of potential bodily integrity abuse by governments. These are: Right to Life, Slavery and Forced Labor, Security of One's Person, Torture and Inhumane, Cruel or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.[citation needed]

Women's rights[edit]

Though bodily integrity is (according to the capabilities approach) afforded to every human being, women are more often affected in violations of sex-based violence. These include sexual assault, unwanted pregnancy, domestic abuse, and limited access to contraception. These principles were addressed in the CCL Working Conference on Women's Rights as Human Rights. The conference defined bodily integrity as a right deserved by all women: "bodily integrity unifies women and that no woman can say that it does not apply to them".[14]

As defined by the conference participants, the following are bodily integrity rights that should be guaranteed to women:

Children's rights[edit]

United States[edit]

The debate over children's rights to bodily integrity has grown in recent years.[15] In the wake of the highly publicized Jerry Sandusky trial,[16] parents have been increasingly encouraged to promote their child's sense of bodily integrity as a method of reducing children's vulnerability to being victims of sexual violence, human trafficking and child prostitution.[17]

Methods of increasing children's sense of bodily autonomy include:

  • Allowing children to choose when to give hugs/kisses
  • Encouraging children to communicate about boundaries
  • Offer alternative actions (e.g. a high five, handshake, etc.)


The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states the following: "No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In particular, no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation".[18]

Genital integrity[edit]

Activists who oppose genital modification and mutilation are sometimes called intactivists[19] (a portmanteau of "intact" and "activist") or genital integrity activists, who strive to defend the rights of male, female, and intersex children and babies to keep their sex organs intact,[20][21][22][23][24] to raise awareness about the forced genital mutilations and to prohibit genital mutilation and involuntary or forced circumcision on children internationally.[22][23] Various organisations have been set up specifically for the purpose,[20][19][21][22][23] other organisations have stated their support for the movement. Some intactivists consider themselves to be an LGBT social movement, and have participated in LGBT pride parades since 2006.[25] In North America, the genital integrity movement primarily focuses on non-therapeutic circumcision of male infants and children and to a lesser but still prevalent extent, intersex surgery. Intactivists also promote bodily integrity[19][24][26][27][page needed] and tend to have little or no issue with consenting and informed adults undergoing surgery, since their main concern is to secure children from genital mutilations.[20][21][22][23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Miller, Ruth Austin (2007). The Limits of Bodily Integrity: Abortion, Adultery, and Rape Legislation in Comparative Perspective. Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 9780754683391. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  2. ^ Communication Technology And Social Change Carolyn A. Lin, David J. Atkin – 2007
  3. ^ Civil Liberties and Human Rights Helen Fenwick, Kevin Kerrigan – 2011
  4. ^ Xenotransplantation: Ethical, Legal, Economic, Social, Cultural Brigitte E.s. Jansen, Jürgen W. Simon, Ruth Chadwick, Hermann Nys, Ursula Weisenfeld – 2008
  5. ^ Personal Autonomy, the Private Sphere and Criminal Law Peter Alldridge, Chrisje H. Brants - 2001, retrieved 29 May 2012
  6. ^ Privacy law in Australia Carolyn Doyle, Mirko Bagaric – 2005
  7. ^ Ryan v Attorney General [1965] 1 IR 294 at 295. Judgement by Kenny J: "That the general guarantee of personal rights in section 3 (1) of Art. 40 extends to rights not specified in Art. 40. One of the personal rights of the citizen protected by the general guarantee is the right to bodily integrity."
  8. ^ "Right to Bodily Integrity". 11 February 2013. Archived from the original on 11 February 2013. Retrieved 20 February 2020.
  9. ^ Judgement by the Irish Supreme Court: M (Immigration - Rights of Unborn) -v- Minister for Justice and Equality & ors, 7 March 2018.
  10. ^ "M (Immigration - Rights of Unborn) -v- Minister for Justice and Equality & ors : Judgments & Determinations : Courts Service of Ireland".
  11. ^ "(Page 14 of 44) - Bodily Integrity, Reproductive Liberty and Legal Personhood authored by Lane, Julie". Retrieved 20 February 2020.
  12. ^ "琪琪布电影网". Archived from the original on 9 August 2013. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
  13. ^ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 17
  14. ^ a b "Bodily Integrity and Security of Person". Retrieved 20 February 2020.
  15. ^ Alderson, Patricia. Researching Children's Rights to Integrity in Children's Childhoods: Observed And Experienced. The Falmer Press, 1994.
  16. ^ "Overheard on Are you a 'huggy' person? Would you make a child hug?". Retrieved 20 February 2020.
  17. ^ Hetter, Katia (20 June 2012). "I don't own my child's body". CNN. Retrieved 20 February 2020.
  18. ^ "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights". 5 July 2008. Archived from the original on 5 July 2008. Retrieved 20 February 2020.
  19. ^ a b c Nunn, Gary (20 July 2019). "Foreskin reclaimers: the 'intactivists' fighting infant male circumcision". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  20. ^ a b c Bollinger, Dan (30 August 2006). "About Who We Are". International Coalition for Genital Integrity. Archived from the original on 6 December 2006. Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  21. ^ a b c "About NOCIRC". NOCIRC. 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  22. ^ a b c d "Genital Autonomy and Children's rights". Genital Autonomy America. San Anselmo, California. 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  23. ^ a b c d "About Us". Intact America. Tarrytown, New York. 2018. Archived from the original on 23 November 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  24. ^ a b Geisheker, John; Hill, George (February 2016). "Male Infant Circumcision: A Brief Overview of The Issues" (PDF). Doctors Opposing Circumcision. Seattle. Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  25. ^ Chapin, Georganne (7 July 2016). "5 Reasons Why LBGTQ Supporters 'Get' Intactivism". Huffington Post. Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  26. ^ Boyle, Gregory J.; Svoboda, J. Steven; Price, Christopher P.; Turner, J. Neville (2000). "Circumcision of Healthy Boys: Criminal Assault?". Journal of Law and Medicine. 7: 301–310. Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  27. ^ Denniston, George C.; et al., eds. (2006). Bodily Integrity and the Politics of Circumcision: Culture, Controversy, and Change. New York: Springer-Verlag. ISBN 978-1-4020-4915-6.