No one has a human right not to be unhappy

spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London).

Mick Hume

Mick Hume
Columnist

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Want a baby? Feeling unfulfilled or miserable about something else in your life? Then take the fact track to happiness. Contact a lawyer, and ask the courts to sort out your problem using the Human Rights Act, or perhaps the European Convention, on which the Human Rights Act was based.

If current trends continue, we will soon have the human right not to feel unhappy about anything. That should be enough to depress any free-thinking human being.

Some notable rights have now been legally established. For example, people who knowingly bought houses near Heathrow airport have been granted the human right to have an undisturbed night’s sleep. (How long before new parents sue their babies for the same?) And the residents of a Scottish village won the human right to have a pint: the court used the Human Rights Act to prevent their local pub being converted into homes. Other important cases include the man who claimed that the local council’s use of wheelie bins breached his human right to ‘peaceful enjoyment of his possessions’.

When the Human Rights Act 1998 was introduced, there was much high-minded talk about how its grand sweep would make Britain a better place. New Labour ministers claimed that it would help to create a ‘universal human rights culture’. One of the authors of the legislation described the Act as nothing less than ‘Values for a Godless Age’, a kind of ersatz set of moral commandments.

We now know that in practice the Act (aka the I’m Always Right Act) has helped to cement the Me, Me, Me culture. Any little whinge or petty complaint can assume the authority of absolute truth if it is couched in the language of human rights. Any law, convention or principle that has served society perfectly well can be trampled on by the UK or European courts, in the name of upholding the inalienable human rights of a single ‘victim’ of unhappiness.

The latest example of this involves two women who want to get pregnant via IVF treatment, and are launching an unprecedented court action to prevent their former partners destroying their frozen fertilised embryos. Both relationships have ended since the embryos were stored, and the men involved have decided that they no longer want their former partners to have their babies. The women now claim that the law covering such IVF treatment, which insists on the explicit prior consent of both parties, is an infringement of their human rights.

This case deals with bigger issues than beer or wheelie bins, but the pattern is much the same. By claiming that something they want is a human right, the women seek to sweep away anything that gets in their way – in this case the principle that one must consent to medical procedures, which offers important protection to us all. As the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has pointed out, the law covering IVF (a product of lengthy consideration) is absolutely clear on the need for consent from both parties, and anything which alters that system could have far-reaching implications for the future of infertility treatment in Britain. Yet all it takes is for one woman to claim that asking a man’s permission to use his sperm infringes her human rights, and that principle of consent can be put on the chopping block.

Of course it will be sad if these women’s desire to have babies remains unfulfilled. But it is not the job of the courts to make their personal wishes come true. From the point of view of protecting the public good, they should be told sorry, but hard cases make bad law.

The women’s lawyer says that they are being ‘effectively discriminated against because they are infertile’. This implies that there is some general right to become pregnant that has been denied to these two. But there can be no human right to have a baby, any more than there should be a human right to have a pint. Nobody can really be guaranteed the right not to be unhappy.

The American revolutionaries, founding fathers of the fight for individual freedom, promised their people only the right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. The success or otherwise of that pursuit is a matter of human endeavour. It cannot be assured by calling on God, or His modern substitute, the Human Rights Act.

The only people with cause to be happy about the advance of the legal Me, Me, Me culture are the lawyers who profit from it, and the judges who enforce it. They have increasingly gained the right to act as a cross between King Solomon and Cilla Black, meddling in private affairs in the name of human rights. That is as inhuman as it is wrong.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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