Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 68(2) May 2018


Response to the United Nations Consultation on the General Comment No 36 on  Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) , on the Right to Life .

This is an excellent and long submission which  we plan to publish  in the print edition of the CMQ in August. Space did not allow that  in this  issue. You  can access it on the website at and use the Submissions tab. We print the just the conclusion of the submission here. 

Overall Conclusion

René Cassin, one of the principal drafters of the Universal Declaration, declared that the UDHR was based on “the fundamental principle of the unity of the human race.” [1] All human beings are members of the human family and as such are human persons and the subjects of rights for which Society has corresponding obligations.   “The child is not a generic, anonymous foetus. We can identify the child's father, and whether the child is a son or a daughter. We can ascertain long before birth that the child is a unique member of the human family, biologically, genetically, and genealogically.”[2]

The draft General Comment No 36 fails to fully recognise unborn children as having human rights as human beings, members of the human family and as human persons.  Unborn children must not be reclassified as individuals who are less than human and therefore expendable in favour of the rights of others, Science or Society. The right to life must remain central to our understanding of human rights and international law.  Medicalised killing in the form of abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia are logically inconsistent with the fundamental  principles and philosophy of the UN Declaration and Covenants and the Hippocratic tradition.

The six underlying foundational principles within the Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent Conventions are inclusion, inherency, equality, inalienability, indivisibility and universality.[3] 

Inclusivity means that the rights refer to “everyone” and “every person” without discrimination.  The rights are inherent to all living human beings by virtue of their humanity and membership of the human family. They are not conferred rights that are granted by external government.   Inalienability refers to rights that cannot be removed, destroyed, transferred or renounced even by the individuals themselves, their parents or Society.  Equality means that no human beings are “more equal” than others but that everyone has equal rights as members of the human family. “The notion of equality springs from the oneness of the human family and is linked to the essential dignity of the individual.”[4] Human rights cannot be predicated on the view that certain individuals are either superior or inferior to others nor are they premised on the child being born. The act of being born does not confer rights, but rather the fact of being human. The rights are indivisible and cannot be sacrificed or denied in order to enhance the rights of others.  Finally, human rights are universal to be upheld everywhere and at all times irrespective of culture.

The inalienable rights of all human beings, both before and after birth, must continue to be respected by the United Nations and Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These fundamental human rights are inherent and derive from our human nature and membership of the human family and must be recognised and protected through the rule of law.

Dr Philip Howard MA GDipLaw LLM MA MD FRCP
President of the Catholic Medical Association (UK)


  1. Quoted from Johannes Morsink In: The Universal Declaration: Origins, Drafting and Intent, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999, p.39
  2. By what Right? Are they not human beings? Loving Every Child: Defying Eugenics Conference Auckland, August 4th 2012. Rita Joseph. Available at:
  3. By what right? Are they not humans? Rita Joseph. Auckland . August 4th 2012.
  4. Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Proposed Amendments to the Naturalization Provisions of the Constitution of Costa Rica, Advisory Opinion OC-4/84 of January 19, 1984, Series A, No. 4, p. 104, para. 55.