Human Rights? Only for Some Humans

(Originally printed in the Spring 2012 Issue of the MCOI Journal )

Human-RightsMy daughter, Jennifer, tends to be a bit timid and shy. She has formed solid opinions but, unlike myself, doesn’t feel compelled to share them with everyone who walks by. In other words, she is not a fan of confrontation. She has had a quieter faith and has found less “in-your-face” ways to open the discussion. When she was in high school, she would wear a shirt that had a picture of a garbage can with the caption under it: “This is no place for a baby.” Jennifer was one of only perhaps two or three who were pro-life in her freshman class.

During that time, she had to compose a persuasive paper for her English class and wanted to write “Murder is Socially Acceptable” to compare slavery, the Holocaust and abortion. Her teacher’s response was: The concept is interesting, but there is no evidence abortion is murder; and so she wouldn’t let her write the paper. Jennifer was not happy and as the old saying goes: “When Jennifer ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Instead of giving up, she decided to reframe the argument and write a persuasive paper demonstrating that abortion is murder. As we thought about it and talked with a few teachers and college professors we know, we realized Jennifer’s teacher probably has one or two students each year who want to make a biblical case for a pro-life position. Jennifer and I decided the best approach would be to make a sound, compelling case, which would be consistent with biblical teaching, but not quote the Bible in the process. She gathered the scientific data on fetal development, talked about what is in the mother’s womb (a human rather than a plant, bird, fish, etc.), and Jennifer developed her persuasive argument. After reading it, her teacher changed her personal opinion from “pro-choice” to “ pro-life.” In a later class assignment, she was to debate students who took a “pro-choice” position; and she went first. I suggested while giving her positive “pro-life” case, she should refute the arguments the other students likely would use for the “pro-choice” position. After she finished, the students affirming the “pro-choice” side really didn’t know what to do, since their arguments had been destroyed before they even took the floor.

Reframing the Argument

The July 22, 2010 Washington Times article “Clinton pushes Vietnam on human rights progress” 1 raised the issue of human rights in foreign lands (in this case Vietnam), and how much Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would focus on that in her discussions with the leaders of Vietnam. Some of the U.S. Congress thought this important as well:

The government of Vietnam’s desire to reap the benefits of the global economy must be matched by efforts to respect comprehensive human rights,” a bipartisan group of 19 members of Congress wrote to Clinton on July 15.

As I read this and other articles since then, I thought back to Jennifer’s high school days, which seems another lifetime ago now that our grandchildren are getting close to the teen years themselves. A new idea or way to reframe the human rights argument began to crystallize. This is a subject I have been thinking about for a while, but there was something in that particular article; or perhaps, it was just the mood I was in while reading it, but I wondered: Do humans have rights based solely on being human, or is there some other criteria? If there are some other criteria, is it constant or does it change from culture to culture and/or time to time in order to exclude certain humans from protection? Rather than simply developing a position and asserting my view is correct, I decided to put the question to an organization that specializes in addressing violations of human rights: Amnesty International. I e-mailed them and asked:

There seems to be some confusion when using the term “human rights.” Do you mean by this that humans have rights based solely on being human? If a nation decides that a human is not legally a person and, therefore, has no rights, for only persons have rights, is that something you affirm?

The question is fairly simple and straightforward. Do humans have rights, because they are human; or is there some other criteria for deciding which humans are worthy of human-rights protections? Perhaps, a human has no inherent rights and law makers or the ruling elite in various societies are free to use any arbitrary criteria they choose in defining which humans have rights and which ones do not. Currently in the United States, only those who are legally deemed a “person” are members of the protected class. In this scenario, non-persons—human or not—do not have any legal rights and, therefore, are not deserving of protection. I received their response in less than 24 hours:

Thank you for your interest in Amnesty International and the work that we do.

I’m unaware of the confusion that you mention.

Human rights are those which all humans should be entitled to, regardless of legislation introduced by an individual country that may undermine any of these.

I do not understand your differentiation between people and humans, but I hope that this goes some way to answer your question.

I have spoken with others and asked this question and have watched as they, like Amnesty International, also short-circuited and changed the parameters of the question from “person” to “people.” There is an important distinction here. The word person is a legal designation and may be applied to a human or a corporation. It might be people or some other legal entity. On the other hand, the word people is used interchangeably with human. So, people are always human, but person may not be. I responded to Amnesty International:

Thank you for your timely response and clear answer. The confusion wasn’t between “people” and “human” but between “person” and “human.” For example, in the United States when slavery was legal, no one denied that slaves were human. However, in the eyes of the law they were not “persons.” Several state legislatures and the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this position (they were viewed as 3/5 persons). Therefore, even though they were human but not persons, they had no rights or protections under the law. They were simply property and could be cared for and protected or beaten, sold, dismembered, and even killed without legal reprisal, since they were not persons and had no rights. This classification was based on the arbitrary criteria of skin color.

Currently, preborn humans are legally classified as non-persons based on the arbitrary criteria of geography. They are living inside the womb vs. outside the womb. Based on this arbitrary criteria, state legislatures and the U.S. Supreme Court do not extend “personhood” and the attendant legal rights and protections afforded “persons” until a geographical change occurs from inside the womb to outside the womb. Even though human, they are property and can be cared for and nurtured until they make the geographical change; or they can be dismembered, burned to death with saline, or even have their brains vacuumed out a few centimeters away from a full geographical change, since they are property and not persons even though human. As long as this arbitrary classification stands, I am not really sure on what basis someone could say that slavery was wrong or in the case of other nations, if they are abusing humans who have been legally classified as non-persons on what basis they could be charged with human rights violations? In the U.S., legally, persons have rights, humans do not.

It has been nearly two years and, so far, they have not responded. At this point, I doubt they will. I think I can safely assume it is probable they have chosen to ignore the question at this point. Why? Well, if they affirm the law can use any arbitrary criterion which excludes certain humans from protection to determine a legal definition of person, then there is really no “human rights” basis on which to say slavery was wrong. After all, slavery was legal. The ruling elite of that day determined the slaves legally were not fully counted as persons in the census (which determined state representation) even though they were human. It is wrong to own slaves in the United States today; but that is only because the criteria for human rights is arbitrary and changeable and, consequently, the current law has changed and eliminated skin color as a criterion for being a person or non-person. It isn’t because today’s blacks are any more human than were their ancestors, but simply because the ruling elite currently have declared it to be so.

Other nations that commit so-called “human rights violations” legally may not be doing anything wrong if this arbitrary criteria for determining person stands. They simply may choose a different set of criteria; and if it is arbitrary it doesn’t matter, because it is the criteria their government has chosen. North Korea, Vietnam, China and others legally may have defined those whom they are abusing as non-persons. If that is so, what right do we, as a nation, have to try to force our arbitrary definition of person on to other nations and cultures. After all, our current arbitrary definition is, as I pointed out to Amnesty International, based on geography. A human in the womb is not a person, but once that human makes a move of a few inches—from inside the womb to outside the womb—the new location legally makes that human a person and affords them protections under the law. If the arbitrary criterion above is false and humans deserve protection solely on the basis of being human, that changes how we view the issue of being pro-abortion vs. anti-abortion. Dr. Seuss might say, “Humans are human, no matter how small.” Preborn humans are small, but they are human nonetheless. If human-ness and person-hood are interchangeable terms, then the small, preborn humans deserve protection. If these terms are not interchangeable and one is purely legal and arbitrary (person) while the other is biological (human), then we no longer can view slavery as having been wrong for that society; and we should abandon any attempt at correcting human rights violations in other nations who have simply chosen a different set of arbitrary criteria.

“Every Child a Wanted Child”

Beside supposed privacy issues in arguing for abortion, one of the reasons cited was child abuse. An unwanted child, it was argued, increased the instances of child abuse. So, by giving women “choice,” that supposedly translated to “every child a wanted child.” That this policy hasn’t diminished child abuse but, perhaps, has permitted its increase is a discussion for another day. In my blog article, “Do Humans Have Rights That Can Be Violated?” 2 I realize I have mentioned this, but reminders are helpful. In American law and legislation, human-ness and person-hood have traditionally been two different things. Human is a statement of biology not person-hood. Historically and at the present time, one could be biologically human, but that same one could not be considered a person by law. Since they legally are not a person, they have no rights or protections under the law; they legally are not a person, but they legally are property. The one who owns them as property has rights, and they pretty much can handle their property in any way they desire.

Arguing the issue based on being a person rather than being a human can make the determination of when human rights should be applied a moving target. Scott Klusendorf (pro-life apologist and president of Life Training Institute) writes in his CRI Journal article, “Peter Singer’s Bold Defense of Infanticide:”

In 1993, ethicist Peter Singer shocked many Americans by suggesting that no newborn should be considered a person until 30 days after birth and that the attending physician should kill some disabled babies on the spot. Five years later, his appointment as Decamp Professor of Bio-Ethics at Princeton University ignited a firestorm of controversy, though his ideas about abortion and infanticide were hardly new. In 1979 he wrote, “Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons”; therefore, “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.” 3

Singer is not alone in his view on this issue in discussions in America, nor is it new. Philosopher Michael Tooley wrote regarding this in the early 1970s holding fundamentally the same position. Making the legal criterion for person-hood one of age instead of geography—30 days outside of the womb—gives the parents the right as “property owners” to decide if they want to keep the property or terminate and dispose of it. More recently, medical ethicists from Oxford have affirmed this view:

Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are “morally irrelevant” and ending their lives is no different to abortion, a group of medical ethicists linked to Oxford University has argued.4

Medical Correspondent Stephen Adams starts out his article, “Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say:”

The article, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, says newborn babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life”. The academics also argue that parents should be able to have their baby killed if it turns out to be disabled when it is born.5

As long as person-hood is the deciding factor in awarding legal protections, and person-hood is arbitrarily defined, person-hood remains a moving target. This even has implications in the corporate world, which has come to light with PepsiCo. Why? Well, PepsiCo:

… uses fetal cells from babies victimized by abortions to test and produce artificial flavor enhancers.6

How can they do that? Simple, the aborted babies legally are not persons but property.

In a decision delivered February 28, the Security and Exchange Commission ruled that PepsiCo’s use of aborted fetal remains in their research and development agreement with Senomyx to produce flavor enhancers falls under “ordinary business operations.” 7

This makes sense if one is a utilitarian as is Peter Singer. The view of the band of brothers from Oxford seems to be based on this as well. The arbitrary deciding factor is whether something has “usefulness” rather than beauty or ornamentation.8 The babe in the womb or newborn serves no useful function and, therefore, disposing of it is inconsequential. PepsiCo’s use of portions of the aborted children serves a utilitarian purpose; and in this view, it is, therefore, morally correct. Geography seems to be the current criterion used to determine which humans will be awarded human rights. The discussion is moving toward usefulness as a criterion for those humans who have moved out of the womb and into the world. This has even more far-reaching implications.

Every Grandma a Wanted Grandma

According to the pro-life Action League,9 there has been 1.3-million abortions annually since 1973; and as of May 17, 2005, that brought the number to 46-million. This becomes important for two reasons: Economic as well as end-of-life questions. Most likely, a majority of the aborted, had they lived, would have been wage earners and tax payers. By killing off these humans, there are less persons available to support the aging Cry-baby Boomers. As the Obama administration embarked on “health care reform,” one of the questions was how that would impact health care for the elderly. Assurances were given the health care would be as good or better and at a lower cost than currently is being charged. Conservatives were firm this was untrue. Now that the health care legislation has passed, unread by most in the House and Senate who voted for it, the actual impact is slowly beginning to come to light. As “Medicare Reform Means Some Seniors Face Benefit Cuts” notes:

Now for the bad news: Seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage may soon find that their benefits have been cut. Under changes contained within America’s new health reform law, reduced payments to private insurers may lead to a reduction in benefits such as dental coverage and free eyeglasses. That could trigger an exodus from Medicare Advantage plans back to traditional fee-for-service Medicare, though at much higher costs.10

As the legislation neared passing, Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska, raised the issue of what she called “death panels.” End-of-life issues are difficult, and the majority of money spent on care of the elderly will be spent in the last few weeks of their life. It is something that needs to be thought about and discussed within one’s family. But is it something which should be legislated by the Federal Government or, more precisely, by a board of unelected bureaucrats?

Of course, the ruckus that was raised caused Barack Obama and others to verbally deny this was their view, but other times of candor demonstrates Palin’s concerns were well-founded. Steven Mosher, president of Population Research Institute addresses this from the legislation itself in “Obama to Seniors: Take Two Aspirin and Call Me When You’re Dead.”

Consider Section 1233 of the bill, HR3200, currently under consideration by the House of Representatives. This specifies that the “advance care planning consultation “shall include … (1)(E) An explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available”, which “may include the formulation of … an actionable medical order relating to the treatment of that individual that … may include indications respecting … (iv) the use of artificially administered nutrition and hydration.”11

Eileen F. Toplansky, columnist for the American Thinker, in “Death Panels and Mom” revisited the question:

When the health care reform bill was still in its infancy, I read with dismay about the so-called death panels. I knew that Barack Obama was a vigorous proponent of late-stage abortions, which spoke to his detached view of life. Then I discovered that since there really were no “death panels” in the bill, Congress decided to eliminate the confusing language. Of course, if these panels were not in the bill in the first place, what was being deleted?

Therefore, that nagging feeling never quite went away. And so now I read Michael D. Tanner’s piece entitled “Death Panels Were an Overblown Claim — Until Now” and my earlier suspicions have been reinvigorated. Thus, we learn that Obama’s pick for director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services “is romantic about the [British] National Health Service,” where “every year, 50,000 surgeries are cancelled because patients become too sick on the waiting list to proceed.” Thus, rationing and death panels hover at the borders of this health care reform law. Just because the term is not used doesn’t mean the intent is not clear to anyone who can connect the dots.12

If human rights are denied humans in the womb (geography), why not those in retirement homes later in life? If usefulness is a criterion and someone in a nursing home is not deemed useful, can human rights be terminated? If not, why not?

I am not a prophet, or the son of a prophet, and I work for a non-profit organization, so this is not a prophetic proclamation, but it is an educated prediction. Those who have fought so strongly for abortion most likely will have their views and positions turned on them in coming years. Cry-baby Boomers will begin retiring very soon and, since they are the largest segment of the population, the shear mass will tax the system in ways we cannot imagine. The chosen tool which will be turned to remedy the solution likely will be to appeal to an already-approved definition of person: Geography. Those humans living in nursing homes legally will be made non-persons, whereas those humans living outside nursing homes legally still will be persons. That will make the emotional decisions of what to do with grandma a little easier. She is human, but she is not legally a person and may be abandoned or abused in her old age. Euthanasia will be suggested as a viable alternative to take financial and emotional stress off of family and society. You know the line; every grandma should be a wanted grandma.

Formulating a Different Argument

Early on in the cultural and political debate, the sides were identified as pro-abortion vs. anti-abortion. The pro-abortion crowd quickly realized their position—being in favor of killing a child, even a child in the womb—was difficult to market. Subsequently, they changed the focus of the debate when they made it about “choice.” This recast the argument as one side being against the choice of a living, breathing human being called a woman and a “fetus.” The language of “fetus” comes across as amorphous—it brings no shape or character to mind, and so it gives the impression the life in the womb is something more akin to an organ like a liver or kidney than it does to another human being.

The anti-abortion advocates made a positive transition from being “anti”-something to being “pro”-something: Specifically, pro-life. It does market better than being “anti”-something, but it still is an uphill battle in a nation that values freedom and choice.

In a letter I wrote to Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (Republican, NC) in February of this year, I suggested we recast the pro-life argument in a new direction. Ellmers is very pro-life and has been working on legislation to protect the preborn. I don’t know what goes into writing a bill and proposing legislation exactly, but I suggested a Human Rights Bill be crafted which advanced protection of human rights regardless of gender, age, physical challenges or geographic location. This would again change the argument. Those who are fighting for abortion would be exposed as being opposed to basic human rights, while the pro-life side is working positively for human rights for all humans.

This seems to be the most logical and, I think, biblical perspective. Humans are created in the image of God (Gen.1:27). They have intrinsic value even in their fallen state, because they still have the Imago Dei (image of God). That does not mean they are saved or even in the family of God. Sin brought about a separation (Is.59:2) which only can be bridged by faith in Jesus Christ (Gal.2:16) Who paid for our sins (Rom.5:8), we are adopted by God (Rom.8:15), and the sin separation is eliminated by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Eph.2:8-9). But, state governments, the Federal Government and Supreme Court have been clear and consistent throughout U.S. history: Rights and Constitutional protections are not for all humans; those protections are only for those legally recognized as persons—according to whatever subjective criteria the ruling elite are using at any given time. Focusing the argument on Human Rights protects innocent life on both ends of the mortal life continuum.Ω

L.L. (Don) Veinot Jr. is co-founder and President of Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc., a national apologetics ministry and mission to new religious movements based in WonderLake, IL., with a branch office in Spring Hill, Florida. He, along with his wife of 41 years, Joy, have been involved in discernment ministry as missionaries to New Religious Movements since 1987. He is a frequent guest on various radio and television broadcasts including The John Ankerberg Show as well as being a staff researcher and writer for the Midwest Outreach Journal and is co-author of, A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life, contributing author of Preserving Evangelical Unity: Welcoming Diversity in Non-Essentials,as well as articles in the CRI Journal, PFO Quarterly Journal, Campus Life Magazine, Journal of the International Society of Christian Apologetics, Midwestern Journal of Theology and other periodicals. He was ordained to the ministry by West Suburban Community Church of Lombard, IL, at theGarden ofGethsemane inJerusalem,Israel in March of 1997. Don is a charter member of ISCA (International Society of Christian Apologetics) and is also the current President of Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR), a consortium of Counter cult/apologetic and discernment ministries from around the country.

© 2012, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. All rights reserved. Excerpts and links may be used if full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.

  1. Clinton pushes Vietnam on human rights progress; http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/jul/22/clinton-pushes-vietnam-human-rights-progress/
  2. Do Humans Have Rights That Can Be Violated? http://midwestoutreach.org/blogs/do-humans-have-rights-that-can-be-violated (The MCOI blog is titled, The Crux.)
  3. “Peter Singer’s Bold Defense of Infanticide,” http://www.equip.org/articles/peter-singer-s-bold-defense-of-infanticide
  4. “Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say,” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9113394/Killing-babies-no-different-from-abortion-experts-say.html
  5. “Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say,” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9113394/Killing-babies-no-different-from-abortion-experts-say.html
  6. “Obama Agency: Pepsi Using Aborted Fetal Cells is Ordinary Business,” http://www.lifenews.com/2012/03/05/obama-agency-pepsi-using-aborted-fetal-cells-is-ordinary-business/
  7. “Obama Agency: Pepsi Using Aborted Fetal Cells is Ordinary Business,” http://www.lifenews.com/2012/03/05/obama-agency-pepsi-using-aborted-fetal-cells-is-ordinary-business/ PepsiCo has issued a statement denying this is true, however, as Charlie Butts in “PepsiCo on fetal research – deny, deny, deny” (http://www.onenewsnow.com/Business/Default.aspx?id=1560738 ) demonstrates, the links are very public including press releases in the Wall Street Journal announcing the deal between PepsiCo and Senomyx.
  8. Utilitarian, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/utilitarian
  9. pro-life Action League; http:// pro-lifeaction.org/faq/abortion.php#total
  10. “Medicare Reform Means Some Seniors Face Benefit Cuts,” http://www.dailyfinance.com/2010/08/03/medicare-reform-means-some-seniors-face-benefit-cuts/
  11. “Obama to Seniors: Take Two Aspirin and Call Me When You’re Dead,” https://pop.org/content/obama-to-seniors-take-two-aspirin-and-call-me-when-youre-dead-989
  12. “Death Panels and Mom,” http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/06/death_panels_and_mom.html

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