Do people have a right to make decisions about the lives of others?

Last week, two different news stories turned Argentinians’ attention back to the unborn. One was about a militant group promoting abortifacient pills in schools; the other article debated what should be done with the 20,000 frozen embryos stored in labs. The latter described how the labs seem to be ready to experiment with embryos if couples decline to have them implanted. In both texts, the mothers of the unborn were said to be making use of their right to choose. The purpose of this blog is to analyze this right, notably in relation with the right to life.

Even Carmen Argibay, a judge of our Supreme Court of Justice, a known advocate of abortion, said that there is a conflict of interests when it comes to abortion. It is clear that when two interests clash, she explained, legislators must choose one of them, to safeguard the other.

The right to life is consecrated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in its third article: “Everyone has the right to life.” The logical interpretation of “everyone” is all human beings. Indeed “all human beings” is how the first article of the Declaration begins.

The declaration has chosen to say “human beings” and not “persons.” The latter term is sometimes debated. ‘Human beings,’ on the other hand, is a term that seeks to be as broad as possible. This broadness would clearly allow embryos and fetus to enter into the term, for they are human beings.

The right to choose, still highly discussed, is said to be included within sexual and reproductive rights. These are interpreted to be within the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) by the CEDAW Committee. They consider it to be implicit in the treaty’s non-discrimination article, and in other places, including article 12 on health.

So, while the right to life is universal–pertaining to all human beings–the so-called “right to choose” is a sectorial right, that is, a right only pertaining to women. It is needless to say how the right to life, because it belongs to the DUDH, is part of a series of rights that are inalienable and intangible. If they weren’t intangible and inalienable, they wouldn’t be human rights. They are human rights because they pertain to all human beings for the mere fact of being human. If we start conditioning them, they would no longer have these characteristics.

So, when a sectorial right–that is, the right to choose–conditions the universal right to life, there is a clear breach to intangibility and inalienability, a clear breach to universality, and a clear breach, then, to the right to life as a human right. The promise, which all humanity swears to keep to make that body of rights a minimal intangible base, is broken. And because this right is universal, when it is targeted by the right to choose, it is weakened, even for the woman who makes the choice against it. If its universality is put into question, it is for everybody and not only for the unborn. This is because the right to life becomes tangible, depending upon who gets to decide who lives and who does not.

Given these circumstances, the acceptance of a right to choose would mean an acceptance that the right to life is no longer a human right. That it should be erased as such from the DUDH. Therefore, the next question would be “How do we regulate the right to life?”. “When would we be ready to accept its conditioning and when would we not?”

To whom would we give the power to be beyond the boundaries and thus to decide upon the life of others, especially if they are weak or have no voice to speak up for themselves?.