I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about human value and abortion. My friend said she understood that human beings inherently have value, but was unsure how those who didn’t believe in some sort of divine being could understand that value. For a minute, I thought she had a good point, but then I began to wonder…
Do human rights and value really depend on one’s religious beliefs? No, of course not!
I believe we live in a society that values people as they are, or rather, that is what I see. As a society we aim to avoid discriminating against people due to their (dis)ability, race or ethnicity. Canada especially prides itself on its lack of discrimination.
As an example, in my workplace, we are required to complete training to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). This training program teaches all employees how to treat each other with respect and equality, regardless of physical or mental abilities. This is just one example of how our society believes that ability-based discrimination is wrong, and should be eliminated in our culture.
If we believe that ability-based discrimination against the born population is wrong, what about the same discrimination against the pre-born? Is a person’s human right to exist determined by their ability or disability? Clearly this is not an issue of whether or not one is a theist, but whether one believes in the most basic right of humans – the right to be alive.
A perfect example of (dis)ability discrimination against those in the womb is selective abortions on children prenatally diagnosed with Down’s syndrome. Approximately 70-90% of them are aborted. Now, would we as a society allow one another to kill born people who have Down’s syndrome? Of course not! Why, then, are we allowing those who are not yet born to be eliminated if they have the same condition?
I have always thought that an uncertain future is better than a certain death. If someone is born with different abilities from you or me, this does not mean they are less valuable or should have fewer rights.
The same principle applies to other differences between the preborn and born. We know the unborn are less developed, but this does not mean they should have fewer human rights. They are developing as they should. Restricting their human rights is discriminating against them for their age. Think of how developed a teenager is compared to a toddler. A toddler cannot play chess like a teenager, but does that make them less valuable or deserving of human rights? No! A toddler is not supposed to be able to play chess yet. Their brain will develop the skills needed to play the game over time. The inability of the preborn to do things more developed people can does not mean they should be eliminated. After all, would we ever let a teenager (who is older) kill a toddler (who is younger) because the toddler is less able to do something?
I could keep going…
The point that I am trying to convey is that the value we give to human beings is not determined by some religious doctrine. It is inherent in the fact that we are human beings. We are valued because of who we are, not what we can do. That has nothing to do with theism or other spiritual ideas. Human rights hold for everyone, no matter what their ethnic background is or their abilities are. Don’t you agree?