The Myth of the Right to Life - Part II

Written by Sam Vaknin

Continued from page 1

In Judeo-Christian tradition, God isrepparttar owner of all souls. The soul is on deposit with us. The very right to use it, for however short a period, is a divine gift. Suicide, therefore, amounts to an abuse of God's possession. Blackstone,repparttar 122355 venerable codifier of British Law, concurred. The state, according to him, has a right to prevent and to punish suicide and attempted suicide. Suicide is self-murder, he wrote, and, therefore, a grave felony. In certain paternalistic countries, this still isrepparttar 122356 case.

The Right to Have One's Life Terminated

The right to have one's life terminated at will (euthanasia), is subject to social, ethical, and legal strictures. In some countries - such asrepparttar 122357 Netherlands - it is legal (and socially acceptable) to have one's life terminated withrepparttar 122358 help of third parties given a sufficient deterioration inrepparttar 122359 quality of life and givenrepparttar 122360 imminence of death. One has to be of sound mind and will one's death knowingly, intentionally, repeatedly, and forcefully.

II. Issues inrepparttar 122361 Calculus of Rights

The Hierarchy of Rights

The right to life supersedes - in Western moral and legal systems - all other rights. It overrulesrepparttar 122362 right to one's body, to comfort, torepparttar 122363 avoidance of pain, or to ownership of property. Given such lack of equivocation,repparttar 122364 amount of dilemmas and controversies surroundingrepparttar 122365 right to life is, therefore, surprising.

When there is a clash between equally potent rights - for instance,repparttar 122366 conflicting rights to life of two people - we can decide among them randomly (by flipping a coin, or casting dice). Alternatively, we can add and subtract rights in a somewhat macabre arithmetic.

Thus, ifrepparttar 122367 continued life of an embryo or a fetus threatensrepparttar 122368 mother's life - that is, assuming, controversially, that both of them have an equal right to life - we can decide to killrepparttar 122369 fetus. By adding torepparttar 122370 mother's right to life her right to her own body we outweighrepparttar 122371 fetus' right to life.

The Difference between Killing and Letting Die

Counterintuitively, there is a moral gulf between killing (taking a life) and letting die (not saving a life). The right not to be killed is undisputed. There is no right to have one's own life saved. Where there is a right - and only where there is one - there is an obligation. Thus, while there is an obligation not to kill - there is no obligation to save a life.

Killingrepparttar 122372 Innocent

The life of a Victim (V) is sometimes threatened byrepparttar 122373 continued existence of an innocent person (IP), a person who cannot be held guilty of V's ultimate death even though he caused it. IP is not guilty of dispatching V because he hasn't intended to kill V, nor was he aware that V will die due to his actions or continued existence.

Again, it boils down to ghastly arithmetic. We definitely should kill IP to prevent V's death if IP is going to die anyway - and shortly. The remaining life of V, if saved, should exceedrepparttar 122374 remaining life of IP, if not killed. If these conditions are not met,repparttar 122375 rights of IP and V should be weighted and calculated to yield a decision (See "Abortion andrepparttar 122376 Sanctity of Human Life" by Baruch A. Brody).

Utilitarianism - a form of crass moral calculus - calls forrepparttar 122377 maximization of utility (life, happiness, pleasure). The lives, happiness, or pleasure ofrepparttar 122378 many outweighrepparttar 122379 life, happiness, or pleasure ofrepparttar 122380 few. If by killing IP we saverepparttar 122381 lives of two or more people and there is no other way to save their lives - it is morally permissible.

But surely V has right to self defence, regardless of any moral calculus of rights? Not so. Taking another's life to save one's own is rarely justified, though such behaviour cannot be condemned. Here we haverepparttar 122382 flip side ofrepparttar 122383 confusion we opened with: understandable and perhaps inevitable behaviour (self defence) is mistaken for a moral right.

If I were V, I would kill IP unhesitatingly. Moreover, I would haverepparttar 122384 understanding and sympathy of everyone. But this does not mean that I had a right to kill IP.

Which brings us to September 11.

Collateral Damage

What should prevail:repparttar 122385 imperative to sparerepparttar 122386 lives of innocent civilians - orrepparttar 122387 need to safeguardrepparttar 122388 lives of fighter pilots? Precision bombing puts such pilots at great risk. Avoiding this risk usually results in civilian casualties ("collateral damage").

This moral dilemma is often "solved" by applying - explicitly or implicitly -repparttar 122389 principle of "over-riding affiliation". We findrepparttar 122390 two facets of this principle in Jewish sacred texts: "One is close to oneself" and "Your city's poor denizens come first (with regards to charity)".

Some moral obligations are universal - thou shalt not kill. They are related to one's position as a human being. Other moral values and obligations arise from one's affiliations. Yet, there is a hierarchy of moral values and obligations. The ones related to one's position as a human being are, actually,repparttar 122391 weakest.

They are overruled by moral values and obligations related to one's affiliations. The imperative "thou shalt not kill (another human being)" is easily over-ruled byrepparttar 122392 moral obligation to kill for one's country. The imperative "thou shalt not steal" is superseded by one's moral obligation to spy for one's nation.

This leads to another startling conclusion:

There is no such thing as a self-consistent moral system. Moral values and obligations often contradict each other and almost always conflict with universal moral values and obligations.

Inrepparttar 122393 examples above, killing (for one's country) and stealing (for one's nation) are moral obligations. Yet, they contradictrepparttar 122394 universal moral value ofrepparttar 122395 sanctity of life andrepparttar 122396 universal moral obligation not to kill. Far from being a fundamental and immutable principle -repparttar 122397 right to life, it would seem, is merely a convenient implement inrepparttar 122398 hands of society.

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory Bellaonline, and Suite101 .

Visit Sam's Web site at

The Myth of the Right to Life - Part I

Written by Sam Vaknin

Continued from page 1

Isrepparttar potential to be alive a legitimate source of rights? Doesrepparttar 122354 egg have any rights, or, atrepparttar 122355 very least,repparttar 122356 right to be brought to life (the right to become or to be) and thus to acquire rights? The much trumpeted right to acquire life pertains to an entity which exists but is not alive - an egg. It is, therefore, an unprecedented kind of right. Had such a right existed, it would have implied an obligation or duty to give life torepparttar 122357 unborn andrepparttar 122358 not yet conceived.

Clearly, life manifests, atrepparttar 122359 earliest, when an egg and a sperm unite atrepparttar 122360 moment of fertilization. Life is not a potential - it is a process triggered by an event. An unfertilized egg is neither a process - nor an event. It does not even possessrepparttar 122361 potential to become alive unless and until it is fertilized.

The potential to become alive is notrepparttar 122362 ontological equivalent of actually being alive. A potential life cannot give rise to rights and obligations. The transition from potential to being is not trivial, nor is it automatic, or inevitable, or independent of context. Atoms of various elements haverepparttar 122363 potential to become an egg (or, for that matter, a human being) - yet no one would claim that they ARE an egg (or a human being), or that they should be treated as such (i.e., withrepparttar 122364 same rights and obligations).

The Right to be Born

Whilerepparttar 122365 right to be brought to life deals with potentials -repparttar 122366 right to be born deals with actualities. When one or two adults voluntarily cause an egg to be fertilized by a sperm cell withrepparttar 122367 explicit intent and purpose of creating another life -repparttar 122368 right to be born crystallizes. The voluntary and premeditated action of said adults amounts to a contract withrepparttar 122369 embryo - or rather, with society which stands in forrepparttar 122370 embryo.

Henceforth,repparttar 122371 embryo acquiresrepparttar 122372 entire panoply of human rights:repparttar 122373 right to be born, to be fed, sheltered, to be emotionally nurtured, to get an education, and so on.

But what ifrepparttar 122374 fertilization was either involuntary (rape) or unintentional ("accidental" pregnancy)?

Isrepparttar 122375 embryo's successful acquisition of rights dependent uponrepparttar 122376 nature ofrepparttar 122377 conception? We deny criminals their loot as "fruits ofrepparttar 122378 poisoned tree". Why not deny an embryo his life if it isrepparttar 122379 outcome of a crime? The conventional response - thatrepparttar 122380 embryo did not commitrepparttar 122381 crime or conspire in it - is inadequate. We would denyrepparttar 122382 poisoned fruits of crime to innocent bystanders as well. Would we allow a passerby to freely spend cash thrown out of an escape vehicle following a robbery?

Even if we agree thatrepparttar 122383 embryo has a right to be kept alive - this right cannot be held against his violated mother. It cannot oblige her to harbor this patently unwanted embryo. If it could survive outsiderepparttar 122384 womb, this would have solvedrepparttar 122385 moral dilemma. But it is dubious - to sayrepparttar 122386 least - that it has a right to go on usingrepparttar 122387 mother's body, or resources, or to burden her in any way in order to sustain its own life.

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory Bellaonline, and Suite101 .

Visit Sam's Web site at

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