Chapter 7

Human rights

Those are the most important of the different kinds of rights. Let us now look at a few human rights, and see something of what they imply, morally speaking.

First of all, let me enumerate some "rights" that people seem to think they have, but don't really possess. I will state them as conclusions, since they need emphasis, I think.

Conclusion 19: We have no right to be treated equally with others.

The reason for this, of course, is that we are not equal to others, and therefore don't have to be treated as if we were. The reason this is thought to be a right, of course, is that rights are thought to be based on "equality," at least "equality before the law." But as I said earlier, this is not really equality, since all it means is that no right anyone has can be violated; and obviously, as we can see now, some people have many more acquired rights than others.

Nevertheless, it is, for another reason, morally wrong to discriminate against people of a certain identifiable group, preventing them by the mere fact that they belong to that group from doing things which individuals in the group can do.

For instance, no individual person has a right to be a doctor; but if Black people or women are prevented, as a class of people, from becoming doctors, either by law or by social practice, then what the law or the practice is saying is that these people are not capable of being doctors, simply by reason of being Black or women, when in fact some of them are not capable of being doctors and some of them are. Their color or sex has nothing to do with their capacity to be doctors; and refusing to allow anyone (or for practical purposes anyone) to achieve this goal, should he set it for himself, asserts something false about his reality.

Conclusion 20: Even though no individual in a given group has a right to some human act, the members of the group as such must not be forbidden to perform it, provided it is a human act and there is nothing in their nature as such that prevents them from performing it.

Now if there is something in the group's nature as such that would render "for practical purposes every" member of the group incapable of performing the act, they can be forbidden to do it, unless some member can demonstrate that he does not have the particular aspect of the group's nature.

Thus, there must be discrimination in the sense of discovering whether there are in fact aspects of certain people's nature which would make performing some task dangerous for them in general. Provision for exceptions must, however, be allowed, because individual differences are usually greater than group differences.

For instance, if there is some task that involves very heavy lifting which many men can do but which only exceptional women can do (especially if it would be harmful to average women if they kept doing it), women may morally be excluded from performing the task even if they want to, unless a given woman can show that she is strong enough.(1) Similarly, if a certain task involves exposure to radiation in the area of the abdomen, radiation which is safe for an adult but dangerous for a fetus, women may morally be excluded from this task, since they might get pregnant and injure their fetuses before they realized they were pregnant. In this case, a woman who had had a hysterectomy would obviously not be excludable.

As to "reverse discrimination" to rectify past discrimination, this is morally permissible, because no individual of the group that was not previously discriminated against has a right to the act in question, and the group as a whole is not being forbidden to do the act.

But this can only occur until the time when people in the group previously discriminated against have a reasonable chance to perform the act, and must go no further, because then the preferential treatment is saying that the group as such is more capable than the other group of performing the act, when in fact it is not.

"Reverse discrimination," then, is very tricky to put into practice. The sins of the fathers are not to be visited on the sons; but at the same time, Lyndon Johnson was right in saying that you can't say to a group of runners who were never allowed to practice, "Now you can run the race; here you are at the starting gate," and simply let them go. They need to be able to acquire the skills needed to compete with the larger group; and that was part of the discrimination.

But "reverse discrimination" when it is more than minimal contradicts the nature of the group discriminated against, and has deleterious consequences beyond mere hatred by the formerly discriminating group. For one thing, setting quotas means that members of the minority group who are not in fact capable of doing the task, or are capable only of doing it badly, will replace those in the majority group who could do it well; and the result of that is that the majority group will have reason to believe that they were right in thinking the minority incapable in the first place--and when the minority members find how hard it is for them to do well, they will begin to think so themselves.

And this, of course, if the goal is to bring the minority into the mainstream, will lead to a lessening of standards of performance, and a consequent deterioration of the task being done; and it will not, as I said, solve the basic problem, because the notion of incapacity by reason of group status will simply be reinforced.

Let me give an egregious example of this. Supposedly, we do not in our country have quotas for hiring minorities, especially Blacks. But in those jobs for which people have to take government tests, it was reported in National Review in 1990 that if a Black got a score of 300 on the test, he would be ranked in the 70th percentile, indicating that he was better at the job than 70 per cent of the people, while a White or an Asian getting that score would be ranked in the 30th percentile, indicating that 70 per cent of the people were better qualified than he was. Why? Because Blacks were ranked only with other Blacks, while Whites and Asians were ranked against everyone who took the test.

Imagine, then, an employer hiring a Black, who, because he was in the 70th percentile, was thought to be very well qualified. But as soon as he begins work, he shows that he is way below average in his ability to do the job. What is the employer going to think? That he is lazy. What is the employee himself going to think? That he's no good. To the extent that many employers hire people based on this test, word is going to get around that Blacks are shiftless bums, because they don't work up to their potential; and Blacks are going to get the idea that the employers are putting all the tough jobs on them, because they are well qualified and can't do the work. Since there is this prejudice in the minds of both groups already, they won't tend to suspect the test, which is what was really biased. And thus the test, which was supposed to lessen and get rid of prejudice, only reinforces it.

This is why reverse discrimination is a poison, which, if used very sparingly, can heal, but if used beyond the proper dose, can kill.

It follows from the first "right" we don't have that

Conclusion 21: We have no right to equality of opportunity.

This is another one of those fallacies from "all men are created equal." It is sometimes conceded by people that we don't have a right to equal treatment, but each of us has a right to an equal chance.

But this would imply that by nature we are equally talented, and this "fact" must be recognized by others. Why? Because what is a talent but an ability to do some act that a person has because of his genetic potential. It is the natural "opportunity" we have. But it is obvious that here, precisely, is where we differ in degree from one another.

And what that implies is that the talented in a given area can make use of opportunities to develop the talent, and the untalented cannot use them at all, or even would use them to their own harm. Weights a muscular person could use to make himself very strong could destroy an anemic person. Should everyone, then, be given equal access to weights and muscle developing equipment? If so, the potential weight lifters will not be able to develop themselves fully (because they only have the same access as the weaklings), while the weaklings will have no use for the average amount of equipment.

The same goes for educational opportunity, or any other opportunity. If access to educational values should be equal for everyone, then the geniuses will not be able to develop their potential, and the retarded will be confused and give up.

Obviously, what is really meant by "equal opportunity" is that everyone should be allowed as much opportunity to develop his own nature as possible, consistent with others' not being deprived of opportunity to develop their special natures. It isn't a question of equality, but of not denying the nature and inclinations a person has.


Conclusion 22: No one has a right to equality of income with anyone else.

We will see more of this in the next section, particularly in relation to "equal pay for equal work," which turns out to be undefinable. The point here is that, since we are not in fact equal, then equal economic freedom, which is what equal "income" really means (i.e. equal economic resources) is not a right we have; especially since, as we will see, this freedom comes as a compensation for service (a kind of giving up of freedom) and depends on the value the purchaser sees in the service as well as the value the seller sees in performing it. Since people do in fact have wildly disparate goals, it would be precisely contrary to human nature to seek equality in freedom to achieve them, which is what economic equality really means; some would have more than they knew what to do with, while others would be frustrated.

Let us therefore pass on to a few of the human rights that we do have, and discuss some of the moral aspects of them.

First of all, we have the right to life, which means that no one may ever morally choose to kill another person, as I said. I also said that this right is absolutely inalienable, so that

Conclusion 23: Even if a person wants to die, he may not morally be killed on the grounds that this was his wish.

Thus, "assisted suicide" or any cooperation with a person's suicide is morally wrong. A person may be killed only when the Double Effect applies.

From this and what we said in Chapter 3 of Section 7 of the fourth part 4.7.3, it follows that

Conclusion 24: Every human being has a right to what is necessary to sustain life.

To refuse to give a person food or water, for instance, and to let him starve is to choose his death, unless the Double Effect applies. But since this involves the obligation to do something to prevent the person's dying, then by Conclusion 10, that you don't have to do damage to yourself to prevent damage to another, the fifth rule of the Double Effect is fulfilled if actual damage would be done to you if you gave up enough food and water to keep the other person alive. Obviously, you could give up the food in this case, keeping the damage to your health out of your choice; but you need not, if its relinquishment will positively harm your health. Note here that "harming your health" must not be taken to mean "becoming less fit," because "fitness" in that sense is a value; it must mean going below the "zero" or minimum of health below which a person is dehumanized.

When I say "what is necessary to sustain life, I mean those objects and acts that every human being needs all during life to maintain biological equilibrium: air, food, water, enough clothing and shelter to keep from dying of exposure, and so on. You may never choose to deprive any human being of such things, whether the human being is a fetus, an adult, or a very old and sick person. As long as a human being is organized as a unit, then he has the absolutely inalienable right to these necessities.


Conclusion 25: If a person is dying, then his death need not be postponed if the Double Effect applies.

There is a difference between sustaining life and postponing a death when the death is the likely end of a process that has started in the body. That is, if a person has a disease (or disorder) that has been shown in the past to be fatal, and for which it is not reasonable to expect that he will recover, then he is in the process of dying. This is different from saying (a) that we are all "in the process of dying," on the grounds that our physico-chemical nature as such seeks its ground-state equilibrium, as I discussed in Chapter 2 of Section 1 of the third part 3.1.2. As I said there also, our nature as living fights this tendency and maintains our super-high biological equilibrium, so that the body as a whole is not "headed toward" death and in principle would go on indefinitely in its biological equilibrium. Nor is it to say (b) that the body is attacked by some destructive energy, and the unifying energy is faced with a temporary setback in trying to cope with it. Nor does it mean (c) that the unifying energy cannot cope with it unassisted, because we are persons who interact with others, and if medicine which can lead to recovery is refused, this would be the same as refusing food and water. If, for example, you have strep throat and I can get you access to antibiotics without causing damage to myself and I refuse to do so, I have killed you.

A person is in the "process of dying" when there is reason to believe that the unifying energy will not be able to cope with whatever is attacking the body, even with assistance from others, and will ultimately succumb to it.

In this case, there is no reason to say that death can be prevented, and health-care measures taken only postpone the death--even, sometimes, indefinitely--by slowing down or stopping the process. In other words, in these cases, you can't do anything to keep the person from dying, but only to keep him from dying now.

Note that I am not using the traditional terminology here about taking "extraordinary means" to keep a person alive as opposed to "ordinary means." If a person is paralyzed but otherwise healthy, then obviously someone has to put the food and water into his mouth; and this is an "extraordinary" way of supplying food to someone, even if it is not very difficult. But that isn't the point. The point is that food and water are life sustaining, and everyone needs them, whether administered in the ordinary way or not; and giving a dying patient a pill is death postponing, even though you may just hand it to him and he swallows it on his own. So the question is not whether the "means" are ordinary or not, or easy or difficult to administer, or even whether they are expensive or cheap; the question is whether they are life sustaining or death postponing.

The rule of thumb here is this: If a person is dying and you remove something "keeping him alive," what does he die of? If the answer is "the disease," you have simply not postponed his death; if the answer is "starvation" or some such thing, you have killed him.(2)

In any case, the issue in whether or not to use these death-postponing measures is not whether the person dies or does not die (because the evidence says he's going to die in any case), but in what kind of life he has in the interval between now and the time he dies. That is what you are giving him by giving him the death-postponing medicine or service.

Now then, if you refuse the death-postponing medicine or service, then you are depriving the person, not of life, but of a certain length of time of a certain kind of life; and the damage done by this deprivation is what is to be balanced against the damage done to himself and others by providing what is death-postponing.

It may very well be that all you are depriving the person of is two weeks of agony if you refuse to administer the death-postponing medicine; and so even if it is "ordinary" to give it, the person himself may think that escaping that much more pain is in fact good and not a "damage" at all; and so he and you may choose, not his death, but to escape the damage in postponing it further.

Conclusion 26: If a person is dying and wishes not to postpone his death, his wishes must be respected.

You cannot connive in his suicide, and kill him either by administering painless poison or depriving him of food and water; but you must not violate his right to regulate the kind of life he has by forcing him to postpone an inevitable death longer than he wants it postponed.

And recourse must not be had here to the fact that miraculous or unforeseen cures are always possible. The person is dying if reason says that he will die, meaning that there is evidence for his death and no evidence that he will recover. In this case, you are physically certain that he will die, using the criterion of physical certainty that we gave in Chapter 5 of Section 1 of the first part 1.1.5. The fact that it is theoretically possible that you might be mistaken doesn't, as I said, give you grounds for saying that you are mistaken.

If the wishes of the person at present are not known because he is unconscious, or even if he is conscious and wishes to remain alive, the Double Effect still applies. If, for instance, his being on a respirator deprives others who would be likely to recover from being able to use the respirator and recover, then he may be taken from it, even unwillingly, and deprived of his extra weeks of life, in order to give it to someone who can get back a normal life. If his use of death-postponing means creates a hardship in others that is equally great as or greater than the hardship involved in the deprivation of this extra time of life, then morally he may be deprived of this extra time in order to avoid the greater hardship.

It seems to me that with these distinctions in mind, many of the so-called "hard choices," meaning choices that involve emotional anguish, can be cleared up as to the morality of the issue, which is this: are you choosing the death of the person or not?

Note that if the issue is couched in terms of the "value of life," then it is completely obfuscated. It does not matter how good it might be for a person to die; neither he nor anyone else can consistently choose his death for any good purpose whatever. Hence, all the questions of killing someone who is severely crippled and in pain in order to avoid years and years of agony are not morally relevant. We simply do not have the right to choose anyone's death; and doing so, no matter what the purpose, brings eternal frustration on us.

But then, since fetuses are in fact human beings and also persons, as we saw in Chapter 3 of Section 1 and Chapter 6 of Section 4 of the third part 3.4.6, it also follows that they cannot be killed for any good purpose, even to avoid pain and anguish both to themselves and to their families.

Conclusion 27: Abortions are morally wrong except, using the Double Effect, to save the life of the mother.

Rape or incest are not reasons justifying abortion. If, for example, the woman decided to have the baby and then found that he looked exactly like the rapist and chose to kill him because "she couldn't deal with it," then most pro-abortionists would find this reprehensible. The grounds they give usually are, "At this point, she can give him up for adoption." But the process of adoption is not instantaneous; it can take time to go through the procedures--and therefore, this argument also applies to the pregnant woman. Suppose Antigone had been the daughter of Oedipus and his mother Jocasta (actually, she was his daughter by a second wife) and she was a teen-ager at the time the discovery of the incest was made. Should she then have been killed? Then why could she be killed earlier?

No, the reason those favoring what they call "choice" do so is that they do not recognize the personhood of the fetus; but in this, they are as mistaken as those who kept Black slaves because they refused to recognize their personhood; because these pro-abortion people do not think women have the "choice" to kill that same living body ten years after birth under the same conditions that they would permit an abortion.

Now to answer those who say that abortions are never morally permissible because it is "direct killing" of the fetus and the "taking of an innocent life," let me apply the Double Effect.

Since we are dealing with self-defense here, is there in fact an attack on the mother's life. Let us say that she has weak kidneys, and the fetus's growth is putting such a strain on them that if he passes the third month of pregnancy, all the evidence indicates that she will die (and so will the fetus, because he can't survive--at least with today's technology--outside the uterus). So there is an attack on her life, obviously not intended by the fetus, but occurring nonetheless.

It is, therefore, only on the "unjust aggressor" hypothesis that you can suppose that the "innocence" of the fetus is relevant here. But we saw that this is an untenable theory of self-defense. Hence, the fact that the fetus is not deliberately trying to kill the mother is morally irrelevant; the fact is that he is doing something which will result in the mother's death.

Now then, is the removal of the fetus from the uterus "direct killing"? Of course not. It is the fact that the fetus is at a stage where he can't survive outside that means that he will die. If, for example, it were possible to wait until the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy and then remove the fetus (by caesarean section, for example), then clearly this could be done and there would be no moral problem--even if he "needed" a month or two more to develop fully toward readiness for birth. Therefore, the removal of the fetus is not in itself morally wrong; it is the damage to the fetus in the effect of the removal that cannot be chosen. (Some fetuses do survive ordinary abortion procedures, by the way). As to the second rule, the good effect would be that one of the two survives; both will die if the fetus is not removed. The third rule is fulfilled because it is not by the death of the fetus that the mother escapes death; it is by his no longer being in the uterus. If the fetus survives the abortion, then the good effect has occurred without the damage's being done. Fourth, the mother must not want the fetus dead, even if he is the result of a rape; and fifth, the damage done by not having the abortion is that both die, while by having it only one dies.

Now of course, this supposes that the fetus is to be aborted in a way that does the least damage to both the fetus and the mother. The fact that pulling the fetus apart limb from limb as you suck him out of the uterus, or burning his skin off with the acid from a saline solution does little damage to the mother does not justify these procedures; we don't even kill rats that barbarously.

I might point out here what is really behind the feminists' insistence on the "right" to abortion. If a woman can morally have an abortion only to save her life, she can never be the equal of a man in sexual irresponsibility.

That is, the abortion issue is an issue of "reproductive freedom." Since a man can impregnate a woman and never even know he has done it, but a woman cannot be impregnated without carrying a child, then the man, biologically speaking, can be sexually irresponsible in a way a woman cannot be. She must either take precautions in not getting impregnated (which precautions are, by the way, often immoral, as we saw in Chapter 4 of Section 2 of the fifth part 5.2.4), or she must be able to kill her child in order to avoid the consequences of indiscriminate sex; whereas a man need do nothing to avoid any physical consequences to himself.(3)

It follows from this that

Conclusion 28: The only way a woman can morally be the sexual equal of a man is if society brings consequences on the man if he refuses to help the woman he has impregnated and take equal care of the children he has caused to exist.

The "sexual revolution" has, therefore freed the men, not the women. Before it, if a man had sex with a woman, he realized that he was responsible for her being pregnant and that he now had to support both her and the child: that his act of sex made him married to this woman. After it, the man can simply say to the woman, "You were supposed to have taken The Pill; it's your problem, not mine."

And since women are claiming the "right" to an abortion, which is the power of life and death over their children, then obviously they lose by this the grounds for demanding that the father accept any responsibility for the child. As we saw in Chapter 5 of Section 1 of the fifth part 5.1.5, you are only responsible for what you have control over; and if the father cannot even keep the child alive, then the mother is claiming absolute control, and saying that the child is "hers and hers alone to do what she pleases with"; and then how can she demand that the father "accept responsibility"?

No, the sexual revolution and the feminist movement have put women into a much worse condition than they were before, because they have removed social pressure and laws forcing men to take the consequences of their sexual acts, and they have reduced both men and women's sexuality to the level of naked biology, where women are not and cannot be on the same level as men. Instead of "liberating" women from "anatomy is destiny," the feminist movement has inadvertently removed what in fact liberated them from the destiny of their anatomy: the social consequences of men's using sex irresponsibly.

To resume, then, our enumeration of rights, the second human right a person has is the right to physical integrity, including health. Therefore,

Conclusion 29: It is morally wrong to deprive a person of some ability he has because of his genetic potential, either by direct action such as removing the organ that is the faculty in question or by refusing to provide what is necessary for him to exercise a function he has by his genetic potential.

Once again, these actions are subject to the Double Effect. Since a person cannot choose his own damage, then he obviously has an absolutely inalienable right to his integrity and health. As I mentioned in Chapter 4 of Section 2 of the fifth part 5.2.4, he can allow himself to become unhealthy only if he can keep the unhealth out of the choice when there is a worse effect from what he is doing that might make him unhealthy.

Similarly, you can do physical injury to another person or make him unhealthy when you are defending yourself against something equally bad. We will see later how government can do things that cause injury if this is the only way to avoid greater injury to the citizens or to the society itself. It is, therefore, at least in principle possible for government to penalize a sex criminal with castration if (a) this would actually prevent him from having sex at all again (not simply prevent him from impregnating anyone), and (b) this deprivation of the ability to have sex is actually the least severe penalty that would ensure that society could be protected against this type of crime. I will try to show in the chapter on society how the authorities in a society can avoid choosing the harm when the crime has already been committed. It is possible; but let us not discuss this here.

The important thing with respect to the above conclusion, however is not the negative side, which most who understand the Double Effect would admit, but the last clause. What it says is that if in effect you are making a person unhealthy or keeping him so by withholding the means for him to get healthy, then you might just as well be causing his unhealth. Therefore,

Conclusion 30: A human being has an inalienable right to health care.

That is, if he is unhealthy and health care is available to him, he cannot morally refuse it, because this would be to choose his own damage, which he cannot morally do--unless the Double Effect allows him to keep the damage out of the choice by avoiding something else just as bad. So the right is absolutely inalienable.

But in general, this right is not a right against one specific person, except in the case of a child who has the right against his parents. If there are many people who can provide health care to a person who would otherwise become or remain unhealthy, then no definite one of them has the moral obligation to provide it for him. The reason is, of course, that if you don't do it, he won't necessarily become unhealthy, because someone else might.

Insofar, of course, as you know that in practice no one else will provide the health care, then you have an obligation to provide it; but even here there is another qualification, which we saw under Conclusion 30 of Section 1 of the fifth part, that a person has no moral obligation to do himself damage to avoid greater damage to others. So if some harm is going to come to you (or could reasonably be expected to come to you) in providing health care to another, then you have no moral obligation to provide it.

There must be evidence, however, that real damage is likely to happen to you in this case; and depending on the seriousness of the health problem you are considering taking care of, the likelihood must be more or less great. The point here is that you would have to be choosing merely to avoid damage to yourself and keeping the damage to the other out of the choice. If the damage to yourself were something like the risk of a cold, and your action could prevent someone from having a leg amputated, then it would be the rare conscience, I would think, which could keep the damage to the other out of the choice.

A person, of course, who chooses to get into a health-care profession has chosen as his business taking care of others' health; and since it is known beforehand that this entails risks to the provider's own health, he cannot use this excuse without applying the Double Effect more strictly: the damage he is avoiding (including the likelihood of incurring it) must be at least as great as the damage his avoidance would cause in the other person. Why? Because, once he has chosen this profession, those who have a right to health care have a right in general against him and others of his profession for this service.

But since the patient has an inalienable human right to health care, does this mean that the providers have to perform their service free? No. I mentioned in Chapter 3 of Section 7 of the fourth part 4.7.3 that health-care providers have a right to compensation for their services; and I will discuss what this entails in the next section, when I treat of compensation. If I went into more detail here, I would be able to treat only half of the subject.

All that I am saying, however, about professionals' having an obligation to run greater risks than those who haven't chosen this as their service also applies to others like the police and fire fighters and even garbagemen and so on.

Further discussion of rights would get us into economic rights, such as the right of ownership, the right to compensation, the right to the necessities of life, and into social rights, such as the right of partners in a marriage to sexual intercourse, the right of parents to be obeyed, the rights of citizens against government, and so on.

But I will leave those to the future chapters where the particular relationships involved will be discussed. Let this be enough of a spelling out of rights in general and of the broadest human rights.



1. Of course, this has to be based on objective data, not anecdotal evidence. Women and Blacks have been excluded from certain things because "everybody knows they're not capable of it," because they're "not strong enough" or "not smart enough" or whatever.

2. If a person is dying from a disease of the nutritive system, it may be that depriving him of food does not kill him, because he dies in fact of the disease which prevents his nutritive faculty from working. This is a very tricky thing to apply, but there are cases in which it is true.

3. Always supposing that there are no sexually transmitted diseases to be concerned with, of course; but that is a different issue from the sex itself.