Right to life

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The right to life is a moral principle based on the belief that a human being has the right to live and, in particular, should not to be unjustly killed by another human being. The concept of a right to life is central to debates on the issues of capital punishment, war, abortion, euthanasia, and justifiable homicide.

Capital punishment[edit]

Abolitionists believe capital punishment is a violation of the right to life. Abolitionists believe that capital punishment is the worst violation of human rights, because the right to life is the most important, and capital punishment violates it without necessity and inflicts to the condemned a psychological torture.

Euthanasia debate[edit]

Main article: Euthanasia

The entitlement of a person to make the decision to end their own life through euthanasia is commonly called a right to choose,[1] while people who oppose the legalization of euthanasia are commonly referred to as the right-to-lifers.[2]

Abortion debate framing[edit]

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law guidebook (2000) listing of abortion specifies the publication use of "anti-abortion" instead of "pro-life" and "abortion rights" instead of "pro-abortion" or "pro-choice", and advises avoiding the use of "abortionist" which "connotes a person who performs clandestine abortions", in favor of using a term such as "abortion doctor" or "abortion practitioner".[3]

Pope Pius XII seated in the Sedia Gestatoria in 1939.

The term "right to life" is a rhetorical device used in the abortion debate by those who wish to outlaw the intentional termination of a pregnancy[4] and in the context of pregnancy, the term right to life was advanced by Pope Pius XII during a 1951 papal encyclical:

Every human being, even the child in the womb, has the right to life directly from God and not from his parents, not from any society or human authority. Therefore, there is no man, no society, no human authority, no science, no “indication” at all whether it be medical, eugenic, social, economic, or moral that may offer or give a valid judicial title for a direct deliberate disposal of an innocent human life… --- Pope Pius XII, Address to Midwives on the Nature of Their Profession Papal Encyclical, October 29, 1951.[5]

In 1966 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) asked Fr. James T. McHugh to begin observing trends in abortion reform within the United States.[6] The National Right to Life Committee was funded in 1967 as the Right to Life League to coordinate its state campaigns under the auspices of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.[7][8] To appeal to a more broad-based, nonsectarian movement, key Minnesota leaders proposed an organizational model that would separate the NRLC from the direct oversight of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and by early 1973 NRLC Director Fr. James T. McHugh and his executive assistant, Michael Taylor, proposed a different plan, facilitating the NRLC move toward its independence from the Roman Catholic Church.

The human blastocyst has a diameter of about 0.1-0.2 mm and comprises 200-300 cells following rapid cell division.

Anti-abortion advocates argue that prenatal humans have the same fundamental "right to life" from the moment of conception that humans have after their birth. Although pro-life advocates accept that women have a right to bodily autonomy, they deny that right entitles the women to violate the prenatal "right to life", by having it killed. Generally speaking, those identifying themselves as "right to life" believe abortion is morally unacceptable.

The term "right to choose" is a rhetorical device used in the abortion debate by abortion-rights proponents. Many abortion rights advocates argue that prenatal humans are or are not human persons and do not have the same fundamental "right to life" as a mature human. Another abortion rights argument posits that it is irrelevant whether prenatal humans do or do not have the same fundamental "right to life" as a mature human because a woman's right to Bodily integrity overrides any potential rights that the fetus may or may not have. Advocates of the "right to choose" may take either or both positions.

Generally speaking, those identifying themselves as "pro-choice" are advocates for legal elective abortion. At the same time, some advocates for legalized abortion state that they simply do not know for sure where in pregnancy life begins; then-Senator Barack Obama took this view in the 2008 election.[9] Some biologists however, have determined that the properties of life emerge at the cellular level.[10] Other advocates have stated that they hold personal views against abortion but do not support putting those beliefs into law; then-Senator Joe Biden took this view in the 2008 election.[11]

Ethics and right to life[edit]

Some utilitarian ethicists argue that the "right to life", where it exists, depends on conditions other than membership of the human species. The philosopher Peter Singer is a notable proponent of this argument. For Singer, the right to life is grounded in the ability to plan and anticipate one's future. This extends the concept to non-human animals, such as other apes, but since the unborn, infants and severely disabled people lack this, he states that abortion, painless infanticide and euthanasia can be "justified" (but are not obligatory) in certain special circumstances, for instance in the case of a disabled infant whose life would be one of suffering, or if its parents didn't wish to raise it and no one desired to adopt it.[12]

Juridical rhetoric[edit]

  • In 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
  • The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany holds the principle of human dignity paramount, even above the right to life.
  • The Catholic Church has issued a Charter of the Rights of the Family[14] in which it states that the right to life is directly implied by human dignity.
  • Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, 1950, guarantees the right to life to all persons within the territory of India and states: "No person shall be deprived of his right to life and personal liberty except according to procedure established by law." Article 21, though couched in negative language, confers on every person the fundamental right to life and personal liberty which has become an inexhaustible source of many other rights.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 1999, Jennifer M. Scherer, Rita James Simon, Euthanasia and the Right to Die: A Comparative View, Page 27
  2. ^ 1998, Roswitha Fischer, Lexical Change in Present-day English, page 126
  3. ^ "Abortion", The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law. Norm Goldstein, editor. Perseus Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-7382-0308-4.
  4. ^ Solomon, Martha. "The Rhetoric of Right to Life: Beyond the Court's Decision" Paper presented at the Southern Speech Communication Association (Atlanta, Georgia, April 4–7, 1978)
  5. ^ "Address to Midwives on the Nature of Their Profession", 29 October 1951. Pope Pius XII.
  6. ^ http://go.galegroup.com/ps/retrieve.do?sgHitCountType=None&sort=DA-SORT&inPS=true&prodId=GPS&userGroupName=tel_s_tsla&tabID=T002&searchId=R3&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&contentSegment=&searchType=BasicSearchForm&currentPosition=10&contentSet=GALE%7CA262387307&&docId=GALE%7CA262387307&docType=GALE&role=ITOF&docLevel=FULLTEXT "The national right to life committee: its founding, its history, and the emergence of the pro-life movement prior to Roe v. Wade". Robert N. Karrier. The Catholic Historical Review. 97.3 (July 2011): p527. From General OneFile.
  7. ^ http://www.christianlifeandliberty.net/RTL.bmp K.M. Cassidy. "Right to Life." In Dictionary of Christianity in America, Coordinating Editor, Daniel G. Reid. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1990. pp. 1017,1018.
  8. ^ "God's Own Party The Making of the Religious Right", pp. 113-116. ISBN 978-0-19-534084-6. Daniel K. Williams. Oxford University Press. 2010.
  9. ^ Dinan, Stephen (August 17, 2008). "Obama, McCain air moral, ethical views". The Washington Times. Retrieved January 7, 2010. Barack Obama Saturday said that defining when life begins is "above my pay grade". 
  10. ^ Solomon, Eldra P.; Berg, Linda R.; Martin, Diana W. (2002), Biology (6th ed.), Brooks/Cole, ISBN 0-534-39175-3, LCCN 2001095366
  11. ^ Phillips, Kate (September 7, 2008). "As a Matter of Faith, Biden Says Life Begins at Conception". The New York Times. Retrieved January 7, 2010. Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee for vice president, departed Sunday from party doctrine on abortion rights, declaring that as a Catholic, he believes life begins at conception. But the Delaware senator added that he would not impose his personal views on others, and had indeed voted against curtailing abortion rights and against criminalizing abortion. 
  12. ^ Singer, Peter. Practical ethics Cambridge University Press (1993), 2nd revised ed., ISBN 0-521-43971-X
  13. ^ Marušić, Juraj (1992). Sumpetarski kartular i poljička seljačka republika (1st ed.). Split, Croatia: Književni Krug Split. p. 129. ISBN 86-7397-076-8. 
  14. ^ Pontifical Council for the Family. The Family and Human Rights Vatican website. Retrieved 2011-07-09.
  15. ^ Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India AIR 1978 SC 597

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