Is autonomy a human right?
This is a valid question these days in light of how frequently pro-abortion advocates use the concept to justify their position. In their view each person gets to decide for herself the moral platitudes she will impose on himself, if any. She gets to determine for herself the path his life will take, as no one may impose their will on her plans.
Donald DeMarco explores this concept in much more detail in an excellent essay found in the Fall 2010 edition of the journal, the Human Life Review, in an article titled, “Slouching Towards Sodom.” It is from his handiwork that I will draw from, and then I will add my own two cents.
IS AUTONOMY A HUMAN RIGHT?: SUPREME COURT JUSTICE, RUTH BADER GINSBURG CERTAINLY THINKS SO
DeMarco begins with the dissenting opinion Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the 2007 court case, Gonzales v. Carhart. The Court ruled by a 5-4 decision to uphold a ban on partial-birth abortion. Ginsburg’s opinion serves as an eye-opening look into the mentality of the pro-aborts on this issue of autonomy.
Her dissent’s thesis is basically this line: “[L]egal challenges to undue restrictions on abortion procedures do not seek to vindicate some generalized notion of privacy; rather, they center on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature” (emphasis added).
She believes that with this Court ruling, “Instead, the Court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety.” She adds similarly elsewhere, “[T]he destiny of the woman must be shaped… on her own conception of her spiritual imperatives and her place in society.”
In other words, in this liberal judge’s mind, no one owes anyone else anything—not even a mother to her own unborn child. In fact, as DeMarco summarizes, Ginsburg holds that each mother basically gets to decide whether she will carry a baby to term, and thus she alone gets to decide whether he lives or dies. Ginsburg thinks this is moral perfection, since women supposedly must preserve at all costs, “their ability to control their reproductive lives.”
Does that sound radical to you that a mother does not have a duty to protect and to preserve her child’s life? The Supreme Court justice doubles down. Ginsburg complains that the majority opinion in the Gonzales case appealed to the traditional idea of “the bond of love a mother has for her child.” When she references the Court’s majority opinion that points out that women do often come to regret the loss of their unborn children following abortions, Ginsburg shoots them down. She states the majority “has no reliable evidence” to prove such a claim.
Ginsburg is not alone in her extreme views of autonomy. DeMarco quotes Peter Singer, a philosophy professor at Princeton, as saying, “After ruling our thoughts and our decisions about life and death for nearly two thousand years, the traditional Western ethic has collapsed” (emphasis added). DeMarco also records Derek Humphrey, American journalist and author, as stating, “We are trying to overturn 2,000 years of Christian tradition.” Thus, we can see just how high the stakes are in this philosophical debate on the question, is autonomy a human right?
“The notion that human beings by design are for each other, that they are not isolated individuals, must be rejected by abortionism.”
IS AUTONOMY A HUMAN RIGHT? AUTHOR DeMARCO WOULD SAY ‘NO’
I will repeat for you many quotes from the article containing author DeMarco’s repudiation of Justice Ginsburg’s extreme position.
“If unborn life must be denied, its incriminating witness, language, must be denied with it,” DeMarco points out. Thus, pro-abortion advocates have to change their language to hide (from themselves?) their true motives. Not only do they have to dehumanize the unborn baby by calling him or her a ‘fetus,’ but they also have to pretend to themselves that social interconnectedness does not exist.
“Redefining human beings as disconnected and essentially unrelated to others, however, has dire consequences,” continues the Human Life Review writer (emphasis added). In fact, he highlights that psychiatrists have classified those who maintain their non-relatedness as having a psychiatric disorder! Why would we want to spread this mental disorder to more Americans?
He adds, “The notion that human beings by design are for each other, that they are not isolated individuals, must be rejected by abortionism” (emphasis original). In turn, such a mentality undermines (purposely, we might add) the entire Judeo-Christian tradition, DeMarco laments. After all, the Bible teaches that Eve was created specifically for Adam. Jesus Christ laid down His life for all of mankind, he gives as examples.
DeMarco’s money quote from his essay is this: “All the talk about woman’s ‘autonomy’ and her ‘privacy’ and her right to ‘control her own body’ is not only chauvinistic, but unrealistic. The very fact that a woman finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy is proof enough of her lack of autonomy. The absolutely autonomous person is, of course, pure fiction” (emphasis added).
Our author points out human beings cannot control the weather, let alone accidents of all kinds, foreign politics, or the price of oil. To claim each person is devoid of dependence on anyone else is asinine. “The courts have employed the ludicrous in order to rationalize the perilous,” writes the adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary. “This is inevitable since they could not rely on reasonableness to produce their desired outcome,” he adds. Human beings are best described as interdependent, argues DeMarco correctly.
He sees Ginsburg’s argumentation for complete autonomy creating “an atmosphere of radical inhospitality.” The Senior Fellow at Human Life International describes over the course of the article how this radical view of autonomy affected the culture of Sodom, the ancient city in Biblical times. Inhospitality became so prevalent that sojourners would be denied a place to sleep at night, but would still be susceptible to theft, torture, and even murder. He sees our society “slouching towards Sodom,” in this way. He concludes his essay by lamenting that if a society embraces autonomy so radically, it will in effect deny the Natural Law itself.
ADDING MY TWO CENTS
Professor DeMarco does an admirable job of blasting Justice Ginsburg’s arguments. While we all have a right to chart our own course to some degree–what career path to pursue, what vacation spots to visit, whom to marry–we do not each possess a license to do anything and everything we please. We can see clearly on the question, is autonomy a human right that the answer is a resounding “NO.”
To further drive home the point, let me add one more argument that came to mind immediately when I began to read DeMarco’s essay. My contribution is to point out that rights imply responsibilities.
What I mean is that for Ginsburg or anyone else to claim I or anyone owe her a right to practice their autonomy is, in itself, a self-defeating argument. For, if we all are independent, willful beings, then why do I need to honor any right she claims to have? Could not her supposed rights interfere with my rights? Who gets to referee, when no one else can deny another his or her “destiny?”
In other words, if we are truly autonomous, as Ginsburg thinks we are or at least thinks we should be, then no one would have any obligation to anyone else to honor his or her supposed rights. Let me give you some examples of just how extremely nonrealistic this fantasy of autonomy remains.
“Oh, you live in the apartment below mine and do not want me to blast my music at 4 a.m. while you try to sleep? Too bad, sister, I am an autonomous being, supposedly! Your right to a decent night’s sleep interferes with my right to jam out all night long.”
“I see, you want your medical treatment to remain private between just you and your doctor? Well, with him being an autonomous human being, wouldn’t he have a right to broadcast your medical condition to marketing companies? Who are you to say he can’t sell them your name and contact information for cash, so they can mail you samples of hemorrhoid creams or erectile dysfunction treatments? The doctor wants to fund an extra vacation to the Bahamas, and he doesn’t owe you anything, after all.”
See where this is going? And the best example of how you, obviously, are not autonomous is the very gift of your life. After all, you did not get to choose your parents, when you were born, where you would live as a child, or who would be your siblings. The very gift of your life came about only because your parents conceived you, your mother birthed you, and she and others fed you and raised you.
If you owe your very life to other people, then is it such a stretch to think we all owe protection of life to the most vulnerable among us, the unborn?
What do you make of Justice Ginsburg’s arguments? What about Professor DeMarco’s refutation?
How would you answer, is autonomy a human right?
Please leave your comments below.