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The Declaration Philosophy, Part V: This right before all others

By Linda A. Prussen-Razzano
web posted September 15, 2003

Read the first part of Linda's series here, second, third, and fourth.

Of the inalienable rights that one possesses, life is first. Quite obviously, one must be alive to exercise their rights. From the beginnings of time, the society of others was sought for the preservation of the species; whether it was a mate for the procreation and nurturing of children, protection for predators, or for the common hunt for food. All of these patterns were necessary for life to continue.

We look at ancient civilizations with a sense of both wonder and horror; wonder that they could accomplish so much with their limited means, and horror that they could treat each other so abominably. Physically challenged children were left to die shortly after birth. Adults were encouraged to go into the wilderness to perish. Blood sports, arenas notwithstanding, were little more than grandiose slaughterhouses for others' malicious entertainment.

A civilized society would purportedly reject such things. It would recognize the beauty of each individual, acknowledge their inalienable right to live, and continue to value their presence in society long before and after they were able to contribute to it.

Sadly, this is not the case.

Unwanted children are no longer left like changelings in the forest; with the help of technology, they are sucked from the womb and disposed of in deceptive, white canisters. Aging adults are treated with scorn, contempt, or, perhaps worst of all, bland indifference. The blood sport of the past has moved underground, encouraging the death of others in the manner of the Hemlock Society and groups that push for doctor assisted suicide.

Let this be unmistakable: people have a right to live. The Constitution does not quantify that right by examining the "quality" of it. The right to live, to life, is primary above all others. But certain groups in society, self-proclaimed arbiters of other people's rights, have put conditions on this most basic right in a blatant attempt to distort it or deny others of it.

At times, society recognizes the "quality of life" lie. When a firefighter gives their life in the line of duty, most of society does not examine whether that firefighter was happy, had a good marriage, or enjoyed a decent standard of living. Most in society recognizes that they were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, giving their today and all their tomorrows for someone else. Their life is perceived as it should be, with great value, spent only in the most heroic and noble pursuit.

When a toddler falls down a well, or miners are trapped underground, or a plane crashes, hearts instantly turn to thoughts of survival. All efforts possible are begun to save lives. Crushed limbs, lost senses, shattered spirits matter not…the fight to keep others alive begins. Where there is life, there is hope; the converse is true.

Where did we veer off the path of acknowledging that everyone possesses this most basic right, even the weakest and smallest among us? Bit by incremental bit, the argument shifted away from this essential human truth to the vague and blurred world of moral relativism. The unborn don't have a right to live because we can't really determine when they are "technically" alive, even though advances in modern science refute this argument daily. The elderly don't have a right to live because they can't possibly enjoy the same "quality" of life that they did when they were young. The infirmed don't have a right to live because they can't participate in what others perceive as living.

To assure ourselves that such a flagrant abuse of rights is somehow acceptable, we engage in a senseless parade of rhetorical questions, of what if or should be, and conveniently overlook the truth…that we are actively supporting the subordination of the rights of others and allowing a part of our humanity to die with them.

Only when we reaffirm this most basic right for everyone will we recapture some of the spirit that makes us a free people, and have the strength to assert all of our rights as the Declaration so encourages and the Constitution so enumerates. A just society exists solely for the purpose of defending the rights of everyone.

If it does not, it has ceased to be just, and so have the people who comprise it.

Linda Prussen-Razzano is frequent contributor to Enter Stage Right and a number of other online magazines.

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