In his article entitled ‘Human Rights Pitted Against Man,’ author Jakob Cornides (who spoke at SPUC's national conference earlier this month) indicates that a new era of rights is dawning upon us. The rights articulated in the UDHR and most fundamentally known to us are under threat. Jakob Cornides devotes this paper to examining the nature and extent of that threat.
Cornides identifies the current threat to human rights as the result of a subtle power shift to unelected international bodies seeking to advance a new doctrine of human rights. His article addresses two examples of this emerging ideology through reference to: (1) a Legal Opinion published by a Network of Experts on Fundamental Rights set up by the European Union (EU), and (2) a decision handed down by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) Tysiac v Poland. While the Legal Opinion challenges the freedom of those in the medical profession to conscientiously object to certain practices like abortion, both examples take unfounded steps towards establishing abortion as a new 'human right.'
However, according to a classical conception of rights, which Cornides upholds, it is not possible to advance a new doctrine of human rights. On this view, basic human rights have to hold in all times and places. There can be no such a thing as a basic human right that thwarts a natural human function, as occurs in abortion – especially when a right to abortion would so directly undermine the right to life. Nor can our list of human rights expand. Cornides draws on ancient authors such as Cicero in defence of this assertion. His current concern is that we are witnessing a concerted attempt on the international stage to elicit a twofold shift in the conception of rights: first, a shift in the criteria for what constitutes a right, which means that the list of rights is ever-expanding and changing; and second, an abandonment of a natural hierarchy of rights, which weakens, amongst other things, the logical primacy of the right to life.
An example of this shifting doctrine of human rights is present in the Network's Legal Opinion, which raises concerns about the role of conscientious objection clauses in concordats. (The Opinion is solely responding to conscientious objection clauses in concordats with the Holy See, specifically a draft concordat between Slovakia and the Holy See). The Opinion asserts that clauses which grant a subjective right to medical practitioners to abstain from medical procedures (such as abortion) would: (1) deny women lawful access to abortions, and (2) discriminate between medical practitioners according to their religious faith, or lack thereof. Cornides explains the genesis of the Network’s Opinion and responds to its concerns, which he considers to be pre-emptive and replete with numerous contradictions. He also exposes the Network's manipulation of basic terms, its omission of important facts, its inadequacies in research and misdiagnosis of the issue. Cornides reveals the Network’s Opinion to be anything but a reliable exposition of the truth of the matter. While recognising that this Opinion has no legal force, Cornides argues that documents such as this have significant political influence on the international stage.
While the new language of rights may seem persuasive, in reality it is nothing but a wolf in sheep's clothing. In the words of Pope John Paul II, Cornides warns us to beware the “new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden than its predecessors which attempts to pit even human rights against the family and against man.”