“Rights expand to meet the egos of those for whom freedom is nothing but unconstrained action (The only good that deserves the name, says Mill, is that of pushing our own good in our own way).
“Rights expand by two means. First, negative rights become positive rights. For example, the right of a woman to have a child, in the sense that no one has the power to prevent her if she so wishes, becomes the right to ‘possess’ a child in actual fact, even at taxpayers’ and societies’ expense. Infertility becomes an affront to our infringement of rights rater than a physiological misfortune, and since the technical mean exist, so far very expensive and successful in only a small minority of cases, to correct that infertility, access to those means becomes itself a right, denial of which becomes a grounds of complaint and (more valuable still) of resentment. It goes without saying that any discrimination against women whatsoever on the evidence of their disposition, conduct or lifestyle in their search for fertility treatment would likewise be an infringement on their right to a child. I want, therefore I have a right. In this dictum is contained the reason why it will prove so difficult in the long run to place any ethical boundaries upon technical advances in reproductive medicine; desire is sovereign, and rules the Versailles of the mind. We affect to be appalled by the feticide practiced in India, but what objection can we really raise once we have accepted the majesty of the individual will?
“The second means by which rights expand to meet the egos that demand them is by the denial of limiting reciprocity; the thinking goes that if a right is genuinely a right, it must be unconditional. The right to a fair trial cannot be abrogated by any other consideration, for example for reasons of state. Since this is the archetype of a human right, does it not follow that if I have a right to play my music, it likewise cannot be abrogated by any other consideration – for example that its volume prevents my neighbor from sleeping? Either I have a right or I don’t; and since I do, it is hard luck on the insomniac neighbor who wants to be refreshed by sleep before he returns to work in the morning.”
▪ Theodore Dalrymple, In Praise of Prejudice (Encounter Books, 2007) extract from pages 70 through to 71.