Before I started writing this blog, the
topic of demography usually came before my consciousness (through the media, in
conversations etc) in the following form:

The world has a problem in that its population is
growing too quickly. The world’s resources are inadequate to support this huge
population. Unless something is done, there will be a major crisis – there will
be food shortages and many people will die of starvation. This could also lead
to wars over food resources.

The answer therefore, is to “do something”.
What though? Implement a Chinese-style one child policy? Encourage,
sterilisation, contraception and abortion? Tax people according to the number
of children they have? Encourage euthanasia of the old and sick?

The trouble then becomes what happens if
these measures do not work?  What
if people are not receptive to encouragement and continue to do what their
ancestors have done for generations and continue to have babies? What if they
continue to want to have more than one baby? What if they do not want to be
killed once they are in a rest home or are seriously ill?

If the population explosion is such a big
problem, then is the logical answer that we must force people to undertake
these measures? Forced sterilisation of the population? Forced abortions,  contraception, euthanasia?  If something must be done, and if people will not do that something voluntarily,
then presumably it must be done coercively. The good of humanity’s survival
demands that these things be done. 
Although it may not be great for you personally that you have been
sterilised, the good of the future of our survival as a species on this planet
is at stake.

Support for this argument popped up again
this week in this
opinion piece
in the local rag by Mirko
Bagaric, an Australian lawyer and professor. I am not going to quote from
it extensively, but the crux of it was: that human rights are groundless and
indeed non-existent; human rights are trumped by the interests of humanity’s
“greater good”; and a debate about them is likely to be won by “one who screams
the loudest or has the most money”.

This perhaps is the nub:

“The truth is that the end does justify the means. Always will.
Nothing else matters. No action is intrinsically bad or good. No principle is
absolute. Ostensibly harmful acts which violate individual rights are
permissible if they are for the greater good.”

I would like to make a couple of points.
First “No principle is absolute” is self-contradictory. It is also contradicted
by the author’s next sentence. The author obviously believes that at least this
principle is absolute: violations of individual human rights are permissible if
they are for the greater good.

Secondly, what is the “greater good”? What
does it cover? Who gets to define it? is the greater good served when we kill a
man for his organs if those organs could be used to save the life of five others?
(Monty Python saw this
situation’s absurdity a few decades ago.) Does it cover the aborting of a
parents’ second child?  Does it
cover the killing of the elderly to free up resources?  Does it cover the extermination of a
race to relieve the pressure on our planet’s resources?

Thirdly, if there are no such things as
human rights for the individual, then why does humanity suddenly acquire
rights? If the good of the individual should be ignored, why should we give any
thought to the good of humanity? What is it about “humanity” that means that it
is more than a sum of its parts? Why should we be able to kill someone, but we
are not allowed to threaten the future of humanity as a whole?

If we truly believe that there is a
population explosion problem that needs to be solved, then a view that there is
no such thing as human rights for the individual means that many things can be
forced on individuals for the “greater good” – ensuring that the population is
kept under control.

This is why the value of human persons as
individuals must be championed and why these sorts of opinion pieces must be
critiqued. We are important because we are human beings, not because we are
members of some abstract named “humanity”. The truth is that “humanity” is only
important because it describes the collection of individual human persons. Forcing
some human persons to become sterilised, or forcing some to abort the unborn or
to euthanize others are grave injustices. They are not permissible even if they
serve “the greater good”. 

I would finally note that I have some
sympathy with the view that human rights appear to be “groundless”. In a
post-Christian society (like New Zealand and Australia) it is very hard to see
where human rights come from and what they consist of. Do human rights exist
because they are recognised by the United Nations? By the domestic legislature?
If so, why do those bodies recognise them? And if our rights are determined by
the UN or parliament, then does that mean that they can be changed or removed tomorrow
by an act of parliament or a convention by the UN? Can we gain and lose rights
merely because the UN or our parliament say so? But if these bodies are not the
basis for determining human rights, what is? Why do we human persons intrinsically
possess rights intrinsic to us, irrespective of what our elected
representatives say? As a Christian, I answer it by pointing to Genesis 1:26,
what can a post-Christian society point to? 

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...