People Should Have the Right to Decide What Happens to Their Body, Including Whether It's Used to Grow a Person
In other words, bodily autonomy is a fundamental right, and it extends to all people. That means having the right to decide what one's body is utilized for—and when.
Personal autonomy is one of the most important principles of any democracy, and it's a core value that extends to healthcare. Just as a republic cannot be defined as such without the independence of the people governed, bodily autonomy is one of the four pillars of medical ethics. Bodily autonomy is defined as the right to make decisions concerning one’s own body (barring the rare situations in which a person is deemed incompetent to make their own choices). “It’s about power, and it’s about agency. It’s about choice, and it’s about dignity,” said United Nations Population Fund Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem. The international civil rights organization Amnesty International goes even further in defining bodily autonomy as the ability to: “make our own decisions about our health, body and sexual life.” The inclusion of sexual life is important here: That choice of words extends not just to sexual orientation and its expression but also to any resulting pregnancies from sexual behavior. Allowing governments (whether states or nations) to ban abortion would seem to be a straightforward violation of that right. The only exceptions that have been made to bodily autonomy are in cases in which one person’s expression of bodily autonomy can endanger others. In a public school, for instance, the administration might require all students to have certain vaccinations so as to protect students made more vulnerable by disease such as cancer or long-term conditions such as asthma. The right to bodily autonomy is especially important for women and girls. Historically, women and girls—and women and girls of color particularly—have had their bodily autonomy and their medical autonomy stripped from them. There are myriad examples of this: For instance, many slave owners in the 19th century forced enslaved women to carry children to create more enslaved people. Others raped enslaved women and forced them to carry those children to term as well. More broadly in the scope of the history of medical autonomy, women have often been denied the care that they deserved because they were ignored or not taken seriously, leading to deteriorating health and even death (such as when doctors do not know the different signs of a heart attack in women that do not show up in men, such as pain in the arm). The term “hysterical” was used by physicians in the 19th century to dismiss and control generations of woman suffering from a spectrum of conditions and complaints. Many women have died in childbirth of internal bleeding because doctors did not take their complaints of pain and discomfort seriously. “We know that when women and girls have the information, the services and the means to make decisions about their own bodies and lives – free from violence, discrimination or coercion – they can chart their own destiny and realize their full potential,” said the UN’s Dr. Kanem.