The Right to Life
The right to life is a universal moral principle that stands at the foundation of the concept of human rights.
Historically, the right to life has been expressed in a variety of ways - such as the primacy of the human person, or the intrinsic dignity of the human being. All members of the human family without distinction share exactly the same right to live.
All other human rights depend on being alive, so the right to life is a foundational right.
Where does the right to life come from?
Some trace the origin of 'the right to life' to the early middle-ages, where the value and moral worth of human life were considered by philosophers like Augustine of Hippo, who influenced many other great thinkers of his time.
Other more ancient expressions express the protection of life in the negative – i.e. “do not harm or kill people” – such as the Ten Commandments and the Hippocratic tradition in medicine.
The modern statements of the right to life stress that it is an integral right – it does not allow distinctions between races, sexes, or people of different capabilities. This notion was felt keenly at the time when the United Nations drew up its in the wake of the Second World War and the memory of the holocaust in which millions were exterminated on the pretext that they were a threat to others, and that they were less than human.
Who is entitled to protection?
We believe that all members of the human family without distinction share exactly the same right to live. But when does life begin? This is not a question of belief, but a matter for evidence. The evidence points to conception (fertilisation) as the starting point of a new life. From that point the new person is genetically complete, unquestionably human, distinct from mother and father, and alive - with the capacity to grow and develop to maturity.
The right to life is universal and belongs fully to every member of the human family regardless of age and stage.
Every person's right to life is equal: sick or fit, rich or poor, born or unborn. The right to life must not become an arbitrary value offering least protection to those who need it most. Attempts to introduce gradations in the right to life negate it.
All other human rights depend on being alive, so the right to life is a foundational right. Upholding the right to life is the necessary first step in protecting all the other goods and rights of the human person.
Recognising the right to life as a universal principle challenges us – personally and as a society – to act on this principle by ensuring that the unborn are protected from abortion and afforded due recognition as equal members of the human family.
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