“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security.”
Now, that is a powerful statement. But, we have to ask ourselves, what does it really mean? What does it mean to declare to the world, and all who care to listen, that life is a right? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an international initiative of human partisanship, has laid residency worldwide for 60 years as an affirmation of the inalienable rights granted to all men. But the question at hand is: why? To my knowledge, a right is nothing more than a liberty, a privilege we all get to occasionally swim in for living in such a (dare I say) “tolerant” nation. No one has any licence over it and it can just as easily be taken away as it can be declared. But, let’s carefully consider this. By my very personhood, I am a life. I have feelings and values and concerns. I have worth, don’t I?
Yet, when I hear that I have a right to life, an undeniable one for that matter, how am I to make sense of this? By my own recognition, it is impossible for me to forget that I live in a political system that tolerates the termination of unborn babies, franchises embryonic stem cell research and probes the possibility of legal euthanasia. Were there an incontrovertible right to life, then I am left to ponder: why is this right seemingly non-existent? This is the first cause. It is not a question of whether or not contemporary society fits the mould of the original Declaration. Rather, it is a question of whether or not contemporary society has lost the recognition that legal rights are formed on the basis of a supreme benchmark: respect for human life must be upheld as an inviolable moral entity.
At present, this is not the case. The Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, a national emblem of pride, asserts this standard in Section 7. Why, then, is there a need to “bring home” the same rights that, as written down, mirror the sanctity of life? It only takes a moment for the average, reasonably minded Canadian to step out of this “black hole of obscurity” and witness the negligence and carelessness our nation so closely abides by. Where have we put our rights? Do we not relegate enough of our dignity to the backburner already – and now this?
Quite contrary to the Declaration, the state has failed to provide for its citizens. Since the value of life remains a moral constant, in the eyes of an ever-developing state, humanity ought to follow in stride. This is the mentality we are now faced with. The square peg no longer fits into the circular hole. The Charter has taken primordial rights, originally asserted by the Declaration, and transformed them into a commodity based on give and take. For the most part, it is our rights that have been taken.
The Declaration recognizes “the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.” Yet, as stated by Father Frank Pavone, national director of U.S. Priests for Life, “Governments, rather, exist to preserve and protect rights that are inherent; that is, rights which reside by definition within the human being, precisely because he or she is a human being and not because he or she has earned or been awarded those rights by some outside entity.” The outside entity has been replaced.
We need to recognize the choice we are faced with. Christ did not force himself on his followers, but rather, offered himself as an invitation and it is up to we youth to verify what we know to be just and true. To apply the rights of humanity back in our nation, we must recognize that our actions cannot be structured upon desperation, but rather, with the presence of reasoning and love. Mary Ann Glendon points out that there is a call for youth to understand that “many rights activists lost sight of the fact that ‘universality’ to the Declaration’s framers did not mean uniformity.” From this, we can adhere to the notion that there are reasonable limits to our rights. It is profanity to even consider the claim of killing as an expression of individual outlook. It is sound to say that the sanctity of human life only bears witness in its totality, which is ironically at odds with the collective norm of picking and choosing “what stays … and what goes.”
There is a coherent vocation to act. Monsignor Luigi Giussani once wrote, “The apostles who remained there were reasonable – puzzled, because even they didn’t understand, but reasonable. They followed him all the same: this is the beginning of an affective attitude.” The call is not simply to recognize the systematic disrepair of the Declaration, but to apply the framework of a governing morality back into a slowly deteriorating culture. It is time to light some candles. It is time to follow.
Now is the moment for recognition – recognition that human life is a commitment to a universal pedestal. From the moment such a right is firmly established, all else follows. Only then can the application of the Declaration come full circle. A reflective statement from Mary Ann Glendon is demonstrative of this inevitability:
“It seems to me, therefore, that the most pressing task for friends of human rights today is to reunite those two halves of the divided soul of the human rights project — its commitment to personal freedom and its sense of one human family, for which we all bear a common responsibility. No one has put it better than Pope John Paul II in his speech to the UN on its 50th anniversary, where he said: ‘Inspired by the example of all those who have taken the risk of freedom, can we not recommit ourselves also to taking the risk of solidarity — and thus the risk of peace?’”
Adam Giancola attends St. Theresa of Lisieux Catholic High School, Richmond Hill, Ont. He is a co-winner of the 2009 Fr. Ted Colleton Essay Contest.