Letter: Rights for all sentient beings ...

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The Independent Online
Sir: George Garner (letter, 6 May), fails to address the central issue concerning Cardinal Hume's comparison between abortion and slavery. Cardinal Hume condemns slavery on the grounds that it violates a basic human right, the right to liberty. Similarly, his critique of abortion is based upon the belief that it too involves the violation of a fundamental human right, the right to life. If one accepts that the foetus is a member of the human species, whilst simultaneously believing that all such members have, at the very least, prima facie rights-claims, then the logic behind the comparison becomes obvious.

What is perhaps not so obvious is that the logic of Cardinal Hume's position takes him much further: for once one accepts the case for foetal rights, one is then led to conclude that the variously cited criteria used as a basis for granting rights to the human species alone - its ability to think rationally, to use language, to transcend its environment and so on - must be disregarded, as they clearly can not be applied to the foetus. One can then see the possibility of a more inclusive conception of the moral community, one in which all sentient and potentially sentient creatures are regarded as being rights-bearers and as having fundamental interests which must, as a matter of justice, be accounted for. Such an attitude, once widely accepted, would truly herald the dawn of a more just and decent society.


Herne Bay,