RENNES — Blame our laziness or the traps of euphemism, but we’ve grown accustomed to using the timid term of “bioethics” to debate certain subjects that are, in reality, philosophical and moral meta-norms that govern us all — that is, none other than the singular and irreducible dignity of the human species, as opposed to fauna, flora and objects. The humanist philosophy at the source of what we call “human rights,” no stranger to the Judeo-Christian heritage, is based on the premise that a human being is endowed with conscience and reason, and the fact that this particular ability distinguishes us from the rest of the living and non-living world.
We are therefore prohibited from treating human beings as animals or objects, which is why our civil law, by affirming that contracts can only be about “things that are in commerce,” has always ruled out the possibility of disposing of the human body and the condition of persons. Dignity is simply what distinguishes the human from the inhuman.
For example, we accept without difficulty that on stud farms across France, mares of prestigious breeds are inseminated from the best stallions to make yearlings that will be sold for a fortune every summer at the horse sales in the Normandy coastal city of Deauville. On the other hand, we denounced the Nazi policy of reproduction and selection of Aryan individuals in human farms, metaphorically called Lebensborn (“fountains of life”), as “crimes against humanity." The same idea of human dignity is the reason that “inhuman and degrading” treatment is prohibited by international law, that slavery was abolished and that limits on abortion have been set everywhere.
Dignity is simply what distinguishes the human from the inhuman.
In France, some intellectuals, politicians or practitioners, doctors or militant jurists, see the periodic revision of the laws on so-called bioethics as an opportunity to advance their eternal demands: legalization of surrogacy, artificial insemination for lesbian or single women, euthanasia, and even certain forms of eugenics. They shamelessly invoke the “fight against infertility,” the battle for “equal rights” and, while they’re at it, the “dignity” of those who, often, are also their clients. Dignity is thus summoned, contrary to its very definition, on the basis of indigent arguments such as, an alleged reality principle according to which, the existence of certain deviant, fraudulent, illegal or degrading practices obliges us to change the rules, in order for the law to authorize them.
Incidentally, it should be observed, in these supposedly progressive ranks, the presence of people who are very much in favor of the recognition of “non-human animal rights.” Bullfighting and hunting offend them more than euthanasia or the sale of children. The unlimited extension of “non-discrimination” is thus slowly, but steadily leading us to relativism and the abolition of discernment, which in turn leads to nihilism. When people compare a cattle slaughterhouse to Auschwitz, as some have done, it is a sign that the encephalogram is becoming flat as we move closer to nothingness.
The frustrations or narcissistic demands of individuals whose health, age, celibacy, sexual orientation or sometimes sole career concerns prevent them from procreating are presented as unbearable societal “discriminations” that should be put right by the granting of new so-called “reproductive” rights, even at the cost of renouncing the principles of our civilization.
The principles of objective law are being destroyed by subjective demands.
Academic symposia are thus composed by “experts” who, endowed with their self-proclaimed scientific standing, loudly rejoice at the heralded disappearance of the principle of the unavailability of the human body, [a principle in French law, according to which, no one may sell or engage his body in a way that would deprive him of it], idiotically bragging about the merits of new and lucrative “fountains of life” or “death clinics,” accessible on foreign websites.
A father and feet — Photo: Sopasnor
The multiculturalist ideology in the West has developed an unbridled relativism. The principles of objective law are being destroyed by subjective demands based on the perception of individuals and groups that no longer accepts any limits.
The late philosopher of law, Michel Villey, rightly saw, in this mindless consumerist realm, “the selfishness and lack of culture that goes hand in hand with moral failure, the intellectual horizons naturally narrowed for each subject to the dimensions of his desires, where everyone thinks about everything according to his ego and captures, at the service of his ego, what should be conceived according to the common interest.”
Some would say that this is a conservative thought, and they would be right. For it is precisely this permanence of values that requires the philosophy of human rights, the one enshrined in the preamble of our Constitution, to which the French people proclaimed their “attachment” in a 1958 referendum. As written in the preamble to the 1946 Constitution, it was made “[i]n the morrow of the victory achieved by the free peoples over the regimes that had sought to enslave and degrade humanity.” The 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man stipulated that “[t]he aim of any political association is to preserve the natural and imprescriptible rights of man.”
France’s Constitutional Council drew from these solemn terms to affirm, in 1994, at the time of the first so-called laws on bioethics, that “the protection of human dignity against all forms of enslavement or degradation is a principle of constitutional status.” This is not, of course, about the small narcissistic and subjective dignity wrongly invoked by procreation militants and traffickers. It is, instead, about the transcendent and objective dignity of human nature that is inalienable, eternal and universal. It does not evolve across time or space, nor change according to the mores and whims of the market. To periodically revise this conception of dignity would amount to killing it with the human ego.
*Anne-Marie Le Pourhiet teaches Constitutional Law at the University of Rennes
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