Reforming human rights and care

The notion of reforming something generally denotes betterment, not regression. In countries governed by dictators, reform normally refers to the end of dictatorship and the beginning of democracy. Indeed, to refer to the reverse as being reform would constitute gross misuse of the word and abuse of the spirit of reform.

Maltese law currently leaves no stone unturned in its effort to protect life in all its stages. Various laws, including the Constitution, the European Convention Act, the Civil Code, the Embryo Protection Act, the Criminal Code and the Domestic Violence Act (as they currently stand), reaffirm and reinforce the inviolability of human life. Rightly, the act of injuring or of taking life is met with punishment. Since law exists to regulate human relationships, one can say that the very fact that laws exist can be taken to mean that the most basic function of law is to protect human life.

Over decades, Malta’s social policy has developed advanced and integrated social services that help people in difficult situations. This safety net carries out the State’s duty to care for its citizens, as opposed to the limited notion of a State whose sole duty is to protect its external borders. The safety net allows those who fall on hard times to turn to the State for help in order to be able to get back on their feet.

The Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe recently saw fit to try to bully Malta into introducing abortion: we must reform our laws in order to be in line with our fellow Council of Europe Member States. According to Nils Muiznieks, extending the protection of law to the first nine months of human life is a violation of human rights.

As a lawyer, that strikes me as rather bizarre logic. How can it be contrary to human rights to protect the life of the youngest humans? It follows logically that amending our laws to allow the killing of children does not constitute reform, but regression. Introducing abortion would do a fantastic job of taking Malta to the Stone Age. The only thing left for us to do would be to start sacrificing children to false gods at Ħaġar Qim.

Muiznieks’ statement that parties to the European Convention on Human Rights have a human rights-based obligation to allow abortion is wrong. In various cases involving the beginning of human life and the recognition of parentage, the Court has repeatedly ruled that countries enjoy wide discretion, a “wide margin of appreciation”, in defining such matters. The Court essentially stated that the matter of when life begins is not within its competence to decide.

This clearly shows that although various bodies within the Council of Europe may have made statements in support of one position or another, there exists no legal obligation to introduce abortion. In fact, the Court has always said that such matters rest with individual States to decide.

Muiznieks himself admits that the only times the Court ruled in favour of abortion was when it ruled on cases where it was already legal in the country in question. However, nowhere has the Court ever said that a country that did not allow abortion was acting in violation of human rights. In any case, were the Court ever to say that, it would be plain wrong.

In view of Muiznieks’ misinformed denial of a prenatal right to life, it is opportune to refer to the Declaration on the Rights of the Child (1959), which served as a basis for the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). The preamble to the declaration states that “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth”.

Muiznieks also confuses the concept of abortion with the notion of care. One can refer to care either in the medical sense of healthcare or in the simpler sense of one person caring for, or showing genuine concern, for another person. The introduction of abortion, which Muiznieks is so eager to see, fits neither the medical sense nor the personal notion of care and concern.

Medically, one refers to the Hippocratic oath, which obliges physicians to do no harm. If killing a pre-born child does not classify as harm, then I honestly do not know what does.

The second sense of the word ‘care’ can easily depict the mother or the father caring for their son or daughter. Alternatively, it can refer to a friend supporting a mother going through an unplanned pregnancy in such a way as to reassure her that there is always hope, and killing the baby is not necessary.

If one truly cares about someone, one does not kill the person one cares about. Caring and killing are mutually exclusive. Since Muiznieks does not question the humanity of babies, it is puzzling that he can refer to abortion – which results in the death of a child – as care.

Maltese law on abortion needs no reform. The only reform Maltese society needs is to accompany people in difficult situations with greater love and compassion. Of their nature, authentic love and authentic compassion affirm life, not destroy it. This is what Maltese society should aspire to.

Ramon Bonett Sladden is a lawyer.

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