In saying we work for human rights, we basically proclaim that each and every human life is valuable and worthy of protection, and if we act contrariwise, we undermine our work in any given field of human rights and cannot really claim to protect human rights at all.
Our value is quite intrinsic: our value lies in our humanity itself. It is because human beings are personal beings that we can even relate to such ethics, and each and every human being is conceived with this same capacity. And in this we see that not even the worst of actions could deprive us of this nature as human. Our humanity is part of our essence, not of circumstance, age, ability, usefulness or innocence.
This value is unchangeable, it is not an opinion to be ignored by dictators or thrown out by lazy politicians. We are human in our nature and this humanity is what makes us of the utmost value and worthy of the greatest protections. It is why we have hundreds of thousands of human rights organizations the world over – we see the value reflected in others, and we want to ensure that each and every human being has the rights he or she deserves.
Consistency is demanded in this work, yet we see double-standards on all sides, from every perspective.
Consider: the child in the womb has the potential to become also soldier on the battlefield, a child caught behind enemy lines, a wrongly or rightly convicted prisoner on death row, or a teen growing up in poverty. Therefore, we have the responsibility to value his or her life at all stages. This is not because they are innocent, or useful, but because they are human.
Likewise, the prisoner on death row was at one point a preborn human being, might one day be the elderly, and could have been a soldier captured and shipped to Guantanamo. If we defend his life at this moment while facing the death penalty, but not at the others, then we have only a false regard for him and not an honest care for his life and dignity.
Both sides of the political spectrum suffer from a two-faced ethical theory that is more of a “choose who you like and pat yourself on the back for supporting “human rights”” kind of philosophy. This exclusivist mindset does not really honor the human person, but chooses who is valuable at what point, for what reason. If we truly claimed to respect human rights and desire the good of humanity, we would be consistent in our defense of human life and would not neglect any human being at any point from our consideration and protection.
The ethical statement I would then put forth would be [to follow Germain Grisez’s ethics: in that the ultimate goal of ethics and of the life pursuit is the full flourishing of the human person, and therefore] that “we must never directly kill any human life.” [This, of course, leaves room for the principle of double effect, and self-defense is provided for under these terms.] This ensures that we do not dehumanize the preborn nor the enemy soldier, not the prisoner on death row nor the aged disabled, and that we will properly respect each and every instance of the basic human goods of life.