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Stephanie Sailer: Would ‘right to life’ trump ‘right to body autonomy’?

Stephanie Sailer

FARGO — This is in response to Nathan Joraanstad’s column that compares the right to life — the centerpiece of Measure 1 on the North Dakota ballot — to the right to bear arms (“Let’s stop the Measure 1 deception,” Viewpoint, Page A4, Aug. 8).

This analogy makes it convenient to explain end-of-life decisions where a Do Not Resuscitate order is involved.

Joraanstad states, “You are the one who gets to make the conscious decision to own a weapon. That does not force you to own a weapon.”

I’d like to understand how, then, this logic would be applied to an individual who attempts suicide? This includes those with a terminal illness whose mental health is intact, in situations where they leave a note and will die without medical intervention.

Does the doctor refuse to save the person, then fall back on the protections in the North Dakota Constitution that the person had a right to life but wasn’t required to keep it? What if the family of the individual hides the suicide note so that the suicidal person can get medical treatment? Can the suicidal person later win a lawsuit against his or her family?

Further looking at this analogy between the right to keep and bear arms with the right to life, Joraanstad writes, “This means that you can choose to own a gun, and there can be no laws passed stating that citizens cannot own their own weapons.” Later, he continues, “In a similar way, this measure seeks to clarify that all humans have the right to life and that no legislation can restrict their right to life.”

If this is true, how will this impact the rights of healthy people? Will they be forced to donate blood or other organs?

After all, if the North Dakota Constitution states, “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected,” and legislation cannot restrict someone’s right to live, then current laws that protect healthy people from forced blood and organ donations would be in conflict with the state’s constitution.

While on the surface, it may seem harmless enough to expand the right to life to include “every human being at every stage of development,” it is much more complex. It sounds like all that is happening is the recognition that embryos and fetuses have a right to life. But the reality is that we live in a world in which we have the right to life only if our life can be self-sustained.

Embryos, like humans who need blood or organ donations, aren’t able to sustain life on their own.

It has nothing to do with whether they want to live and everything to do with their inability to survive. To provide them with the right to life would require infringing on another’s right to body autonomy.

Measure 1 is vague and has no place in our constitution; those who wrote it did so with one thought in mind and failed to think beyond that one thought to the multitude of complications that would come from it.