Human Rights vs. Human Survival

I’ve been watching Battlestar Galactica for the past few months (warning: some spoilers ahead), and generally deeply enjoying the show, particularly President Roslin. Until a few episodes ago when President Roslin decided to ban abortion on the fleet because they needed more babies for the continuation of the human species.

Some people (even those who otherwise approve of abortion) would suggest that the continuation of human life is inherently a good thing. There are a number of reasons they might give: life is a good thing, humans are uniquely capable of consciousness and awareness in a way that is joyful and appreciative of the universe, humans are uniquely moral, humans are better because we’re humans (ok that’s not a very good reason).

But it seems to me that there are some good reasons not to prioritize human life as an end to itself, but rather to prioritize the good human life. If we start removing rights and the ability for people to freely seek out the good life, simply being alive (surviving) without thriving is not worth it. It’s easy to imagine situations in which death would be preferable, and in which some people do in fact attempt or succeed at suicide in order to escape the situation. Certain illnesses, torture, or oppression might fall into this category. Obviously there are some people who would prefer to be alive no matter what, but these situations suggest that for many people, life in and of itself isn’t the most important thing.

This seems to be where we get the idea of basic human rights: these are the things that make life worth living. There is some debate over what would constitute a basic human right, but when we start stripping people of what we believe are rights for the sake of keeping our species alive, we are not only ignoring the fact that the universe can and perhaps should continue on without us quite successfully, but we are also degrading what our species could be simply for the sake of remaining around. On a smaller level, this is on par with a race compromising their ideals and beliefs in order to continue as a race…and while I don’t think banning abortion makes you Hitler, doing it for the sake of continuing the species certainly puts you on a spectrum that’s on par with all the other people who make bad choices in order to maintain an in group.

So what are the things that we shouldn’t compromise simply to keep ourselves safer and our race stronger? These are obviously contentious, but I’d posit a few basics like bodily autonomy, freedom of speech, freedom to organize, freedom of religion…some people might add freedom to own arms, or freedom to own property. It’s a much larger conversation to decide what constitutes the basic qualities of a livable human life, one that is not filled with pain and misery, but regardless of what we see as the basic rights, we should be willing to protect those over our species life in order to keep our species the best possible version of humanity we can. The species is not a living thing that deserves our respect and care. It is simply an organization of other lives, and those individual lives should always be prioritized.

Of course there’s a balance: there are situations where we might have to make some sacrifices in order to save more people. The trolley problem isn’t an insane question. But in this case, Roslin took away a right without a clear positive consequence. The babies not aborted won’t necessarily save the human race, and saving the human race is not necessarily the best thing ever. When we compromise things, we should have a clear image of the good that’s coming out of that compromise rather than a general idea that more people is better.

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