Brazil Nuts?

Human Rights Watch is reporting that Brazil is in the process of formulating a law that will give “‘absolute priority’ to the rights of the fertilized ovum”.

The proposed bill would require any act or omission that could in any way have a negative impact on a fertilized ovum to be considered  illegal. The bill was voted favorably out of the Family and Social Security Commission of the Brazilian House of Representatives this month.

For the record, the Centre for Reproductive Rights gives a slightly different exposition:

The proposed measure imposes a duty on the family, society and the state to guarantee, with “absolute priority,” rights to life, health, development, honor, dignity, respect, liberty, and family to the “unborn.” The draft bill is intended to criminalize any act that intentionally causes death or harms the fetus, and any statement that “promotes” abortion, as well as the freezing, manipulation or use of the “unborn” as material for experimentation. The legislation was approved in the Health and Social Security Commission of the Congress last week.

Irrespective of what the Bill actually says – and, sadly, neither HRW nor the CRR provides a link – it would seem on the face of it to criminalise a whole raft of activities that a woman could undertake.  Hell, taking a couple of ibuprofen could conceivably have a detrimental effect, so would be caught under HRW’s understanding of the bill.  It’s not likely, but that seems to be beside the point.

I understand why people want to protect the life and welfare of the foetus; I’ve said before that I’d be surprised if anyone seriously denied that doing so is admirable, all else being equal.  I can even see the coherence of a claim that people – de facto women – have a special responsibility to the foetus inside them.  I think I’d disagree with most, if not all, of the substance of this, and any subsequent claim –  but the argument isn’t utterly nuts: I’m willing to accept a stewardship argument in relation to (say) the environment or pets, and I could see how stewardship of one non-person is roughly equivalent to stewardship of another.

The moral question here would concern the point at which the protection of the foetus is trumped by other considerations.  Pro-lifers set the bar high; pro-choicers set it low.  In respect of women’s decisions about pregnancy, I’m tempted to side with those who set the bar quite low; just about anything would count as an acceptable reason to end the pregnancy.  Still, I can see how others might disagree and remain sane.  That’s fair enough.  I understand the shape of that debate.

However, to say that the foetus has an absolute priority seems to me to go way beyond that.  After all, there comes a point where the stewardship of a given non-person is just onerous by any reasonable standard; and at that point, it’s perfectly acceptable to relinquish the putative “duty”.  But you shoot out of the other side of this debate about the sufficient reason to justify a termination once you start claiming that the claims of a fully formed person are always trumped by the claims of a mere foetus – claims that, to be sure, it has to have made for it.  To take that line seems to be to ignore wholly the strongest pro-life claim, and plump staight into insanity.

I’ll repeat that: I find it very hard to see how anyone sane could claim that the foetus is always more important than the person in whose body it currently resides.  I just don’t get it.  Maybe someone could explain that to me.

And then to write into law that it’s not just its life, but its honour and liberty that has absolute protection…  Honour and liberty in a foetus?  Insanity to the power of three.

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