Two Countries Grant Legal Personhood to Rivers, But Not Unborn Babies

International   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Apr 10, 2017   |   4:18PM   |   Washington, DC

In today’s society, it seems that more things are being designated as protected “persons” under the law – except human beings in the womb.

Two countries, New Zealand and India, recently granted personhood rights and protections to rivers within their borders, according to The Federalist. Other countries have seen groups argue for personhood rights for chimpanzees, dolphins, whales and plants.

Arguing for personhood for the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India, environmentalist lawyer Ritwik Dutta told the Mint: “It is an extension of the philosophy of allowing a river to flow freely—as was intended in its nature. Any interference with the river as a whole, including construction of dams, takes away from its essential and basic character.”

Zachary D. Schmoll, founder of Entering the Public Square blog and a contributor to The Federalist, responded by asking why the same arguments should not apply to babies in the womb.

He wrote:

This type of philosophy emphasized that parts of nature function in certain ways. Rivers flow to certain places, but they do not make decisions about where they flow. It is not as if a river is a thinking entity that chooses which way to turn, but the court is affirming that nature ought to be allowed to run its course without human intervention. The river is going to do what nature has dictated it will do, and the courts have decided that humans do not have the right to overrun that cause and make modifications to what naturally would have happened.

If we just change a few of the nouns in this story, we would have had some pretty big victories for the pro-life cause.

Imagine a world where the courts have ruled that nature should be allowed to move freely, and a child in utero has already begun its development. Therefore, we ought to let it run the course that it began. That would be a big deal, but you’re never going to hear that from certain media outlets.

This is the first time India has granted a non-human “living” entity (a flowing body of water and a habitat for living creatures) personhood status, according to the Mint.

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However, India does not recognize certain human beings as legal “persons.” Abortions are legal up to 20 weeks in India, meaning that babies in the womb before the 20-week mark are not protected from death at the hands of their own mothers.

Under the law, “persons” quickly are becoming whatever society wants them to be – or not to be. Certain groups of human beings are excluded, while animals and plants and even bodies of water are welcomed under the term. In the past, human lives were treated as more valuable than the rest because they are a unique, higher order of living creature. For some, religious beliefs contribute to this thinking, for others it’s logic and reasoning. That’s not to say that animals, plants, rivers and environments should not be protected; they should.

But this expansion of the term personhood to include non-human entities seems to be another way that society is devaluing human beings, and trying to convince that certain humans are not as equal as others.