Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Right to Sustained Living

Everyone loves this statement: "We are endowed by our creator certain unalienable human rights: The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Something like that. It's a great statement because it gets down to what we all want. We all want the ability to survive (we don't want anyone killing us for any old reason); we all want freedom to live as we feel we should (we can't always get what we want, but we can try...); and we all want the freedom to go after our own kind of happiness (to get drunk after Rachel turned us down for a date, for example).

But we need to realize that this statement is, or should be, qualified. Not that these rights aren't all cool, or the statement isn't true, but that we all should realize that life is a little bit more important than the pursuit of happiness. And even liberty, when it comes down to that. We are all free when we are dead. But when we are dead, let's say that we can't really appreciate our freedom quite as much. There is no happiness when you are dead, so it's awfully tough to pursue. It's hard to pursue anything. Even Rachel.

So life seems to be the basis for any other right. If we don't have life, we really don't have anything. Really. This means that life should be a right more than any other. Again, not to say that the other issues aren't important, but life is just that little bit more important.

Now you may expect me to start talking about abortion or the death penalty or war because when we talk about life issues those subjects inevitably come up. Instead I want to talk about a subject we don't usually discuss when talking about the right to life-- that is, sustaining life.

Life is complicated, if you are human. Or any kind of mammal, but let's stick to humans. To sustain life you have to eat and drink everyday. And it matters what kind of food and drink you have because if it's poison-- like, for instance, cyanide in your water-- well, you don't live long. Also, if someone is going around beating you up on a regular basis, its tough to keep alive. Just as well, if you are so sick that you die... well, you're dead. And perhaps you are stuck overnight in a snowstorm without shoes. Or a shirt. That would certainly limit your chances of living.

This means that the right to life is not just no one coming in your bedroom to kill you, but it means having the ability to sustain one's life. To keep it going. Staying alive is a tough job and we have to do it every day. Without exception.

And everyone needs this, and, in our charter statement there, everyone deserves this. A human right is what we deserve just by being human. Just by being alive. Because we are human and we are alive, we deserve to live. This means that we deserve to have what is necessary to keep living.

And this is without exception. Sure, a newborn baby deserves to live and we'll pour thousands of dollars to make sure the baby lives. But a thief deserves to live as well. And the irritating neighbor. And the scary meth addict who lives down the street. And the bully who beat up your kid. Now, in your more angry moments you may think that some of these folks don't deserve to live. But in your heart of hearts you know that's not true. You'd feel the pain of the meth addict you know being knifed just as much as your cool neighbor (not the one who irritates you).

And so, if these folks deserve to have life, then they deserve to have their life sustained. Everyone, without exception, deserves to eat and drink everyday. Everyone deserves to have access to health care to keep them alive. Maybe not to see a doctor when they have a cold, but when they have a serious injury or illness, they should have health care. Everyone deserves to be free from violence. Everyone deserves to have shelter, especially when the weather is scary. Everyone.

Societally, we understand this (sometimes). When we throw someone into prison, we don't throw them into a damp hole with no roof and no heat in the winter. We make sure they are fed everyday, have clean water, some health care, shelter, safety from (most) violence, and more. We recognize a prisoner's right to keep living, even if we don't recognize their right for liberty. Even though for society's sake it was determined that some must be locked up, yet these at the bottom of societal ladder are given that which is necessary to keep living. The same with those in locked down mental institutions. They are even protected from themselves, if necessary, in order to sustain the life.

But we don't apply this to everyone. If you are homeless, then you may not have the right to go to the bathroom in a safe environment. If you are on welfare, you may not have the right to feed your kids enough. If you have a minimum wage job, you do not have the right to sustain yourself. If you have an undiagnosed mental illness, you do not have the right to have shelter. If you have a severe social issue (for instance, an excess of testosterone that causes uncontrollable anger at times) then you do not have the right to have a sustainable income. And if you live in certain places in India or Africa you do not have the right to clean drinking water. You do not have the right to immunizations that will keep your children well. You do not have the right to have medication that will keep your AIDS under control.

It isn't that there isn't enough help for you. There's plenty. There is so many resources in the world that humans have access to, sustainable life is something that could be available to everyone. But it isn't because for those who have access to the most resources, the right to life isn't as important as their personal right to pursue happiness.

And, in the end, that is the worst wrong in the world.

Every human without exception has the right to:

Eat food daily
Drink clean water daily
Access to a clean place for waste disposal
Cover their bodies appropriately for the weather
Have shelter from dangerous weather
Access to health care to treat life threatening or serious debilitating injury or illness
Associate with other human beings
Freedom from violence (especially from society's protectors)
Access to life saving knowledge (including literacy)

It should be the top priority of all societies-- whether led by governments, NGOs or churches-- to grant every person in every society access to sustainable life.