When Quebec MP Francine Lalonde proposed Bill C-407, an amendment to the Criminal Code that would legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, she did so with reference to the “right to die with dignity.” Abortion advocates regularly justify pre-natal infanticide with the so-called “right to choose.” And when marriage was redefined in Canadian law to include same-sex unions, it was done in the name of “minority rights’ supposedly enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As concerned citizens, we find it gravely troubling that Canada has legalized abortion, redefined marriage and is considering permitting euthanasia. But that these policies should be defended in the name of human rights is simply scandalous.

The concept of rights is now frequently invoked as a pretext for attacks on the sanctity of life and the special dignity of the family. The more the word “rights” is used to justify these actions, the less it means. To further its radical agenda, the Martin government has undermined the very human rights it pretends to respect.

Unlike the American Declaration of Independence – which holds certain truths to be self-evident – new rights seem to be discovered in the Charter with every ruling. And, while the American founders had no qualms about making reference to the Creator, the Charter, as former Chief Justice Antionio Lamer famously declared, “has established the essentially secular nature of Canadian society.”

Human rights, properly understood, are the sacred obligations we owe to each other because of the supernatural dignity with which each human person is endowed. Yet when a country does not acknowledge a source of human dignity beyond its own authority, the rights that it does preserve are not protected for long. A society that has lost God quickly turns against man as well. In such societies, instead of being a reflection of the duties and dignities natural to man, human rights are remade to reflect the values of the elite.

Rights become merely a means of flattering egos and justifying vices. In Canada, for instance, human rights have become less about humans and more about abstractions. In focusing so intently on the concept of “rights,” Canadian law has lost sight of the true character of the human person – his freedoms and duties, his responsibilities and dignities. The myopia of “rights talk” is so advanced that, in Canada, it is now common to speak of “group rights.” But groups cannot have rights – a group does not have a soul.

Human rights legislation ought to protect Canadians from the use of force by those in power. But this type of legislation has, in fact, become an extension of that power. The very concepts that should restrain the powerful are now being invoked by those in power to justify their radical social experiments and silence those who dare dissent. Thus, the newly minted rights of vocal minority groups are now being used to circumscribe, chasten and constrain the most precious and most fundamental rights of all: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. It goes without saying that minorities must be protected from the whims of the majority, but when a society allows the dubious “rights” of an elite few to constantly overrule and limit the basic freedoms of the majority, this is not tolerance, but tyranny.

As Orwell understood, the first abuse of power is an abuse of language and a disregard for the meaning of a word shows contempt for the idea as well. Because the Martin government has used the concept so indiscriminately, “human rights” have become part of the empty jargon of politics. Arbitrary use has made their meaning ambiguous.

How can human rights be defended if they cannot be defined? And how can “rights” be defined when the word is used to refer to its opposite? The right to life can have no meaning if a “right to die” is also affirmed.

The rights of the human person are sacred and should guide the discussions of contentious social issues. But, instead of being the first principles of the debate, they are invoked by political cynics as the last word, to prevent debate about such pressing issues as abortion and euthanasia.

We must protect human life from destruction and we must defend the family from dissolution. In order to accomplish these great tasks, pro-life Canadians must not allow the language of human rights to be cheapened by those who would use it to justify their own radical agendas.