Right to Life Supersedes Religious Rights

Today the Gauteng Department of Health announced the outcome of a crucial, yet brief, human rights case. Today, a twelve-year-old girl was saved from her death, a fate she was sure to meet partly due to the interference of her own parents in her emergency medical treatment. bloodThe Department of Health sought an urgent court interdict to overrule the parents’ wishes that the child should not have the medical care she needed. SABC news reported that the unnamed parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses but were unable to reach any church spokesperson to interview them on the matter. One of their core beliefs is that blood transfusions may not be given or received (it is seen an offence which can be used in evidence for excommunication from the church).

So why was this case concluded so quickly? How could it be that the very first court approached on the matter gave a binding ruling which was not challenged at the Supreme Court or the Constitutional Court? It is a matter of the battle of constitutional rights after all – the right to life versus the right to religious freedom.

The answer is that the constitution has a very useful caveat that goes with the right to religious expression. The relevant section is very clear and unambiguous so there are no grounds for constitutional challenge to the ruling. The relevant sections of the Bill of Rights within the South African Constitution are Section 11 and section 31.

Section 11 very simply states:

11. Life
Everyone has the right to life.

Whereas Section 31 allows the practice of religious rituals and customs as long as they don’t infringe on other rights.

31. Cultural, religious and linguistic communities

  1. Persons belonging to a cultural, religious or linguistic community may not be denied the right, with other members of that community ­
    1. to enjoy their culture, practise their religion and use their language; and
    2. to form, join and maintain cultural, religious and linguistic associations and other organs of civil society.
  2. The rights in subsection (1) may not be exercised in a manner inconsistent with any provision of the Bill of Rights.

It is also noticeable that the right to life is not dependant on whether or not other rights are infringed. From this we can clearly conclude that the right to life supersedes any religious rights. As it should be.

But I can’t help wonder if there will be a time when a person will die in the time that it takes to jump these legal hurdles. Is it not time to issue a statement that these dangerous beliefs should always be ignored because of the imminent threat to life?

~ by James on 19 February 2009.

4 Responses to “Right to Life Supersedes Religious Rights”

  1. […] stoning of gays and flogging of women in Muslim countries are human rights abuses. The refusal of Jehova’s Witnesses to let their child have a life-saving blood transfusion is a human rights abuse. Crass student […]

  2. hey James
    Good article. As far as I understand it the Jehovah’s Witnesses are prohibited from *eating* blood and this has been interpreted as the prohibition against receiving blood transfusions.

    How stupid do you have to be to watch as your child dies while her best chance for survival is denied because of archaic beliefs?

  3. Thanks :).

    I cannot understand blind faith. Their justification is that saving the body at the expense of the eternal soul is not justified. No amount of reasonable discussion will sway them from this belief. Even if we imagine, for the sake of the argument, that their god does exist (the same one referred to by; “god helps those who helps themselves”) the parents would be judged as murderers for not utilising the means they were offered to help themselves.

    As an aside; I see that the discussion on the SABC website (linked above) is getting some pro-JW commenting along the lines of ” How [certain] are they the blood is [not contaminated] with HIV. [Today the] scientists CANNOT [say with] complete surity[sic] that [donated] bloods are free [from] HIV”.

    WTF? Now there is a health conspiracy too?

  4. This reminds me of a girl who was in the same matric class as me, she was also a JW and lost her brother because of this stupid belief. She had no other siblings, and if I recall he was in his early teens. It was very sad and it still makes me angry to think that they could have saved their son, but didn’t. Instead their argument was that it was god’s will.

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