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5. Self-determination

Individual self-determination plays an important role amongst IBKA's aims in accordance with its by-laws. Such self-determination is limited by the rights of others and by our responsibility to future generations.

The term "individual" self-determination is not an expression of disdain for interpersonal contacts and solidarity. Rather, the addition of "individual" shall make it clear that IBKA distances itself from the concept of a "collective right of self-determination" for cultural groups, i.e. a "right" to impose the cultural norms of the group on all group members, thus disregarding the individual rights of individual group members. IBKA makes a stand for the individual: his/her individual self-determination must be asserted even against tradition and religious or philosophical norms.

Free choice regarding philosophical issues is an essential element of self-determination. It gos without saying that, to IBKA this is of special significance. Self-determination also includes the freedom to design one's own life according to one's own views and wishes. This freedom shall not be put in jeopardy by churches and other religious communities aiming to bind the entire society to their values based on religion.

Children and parents

Human rights apply to children, too. Children, however, are not able to exercise their human rights just from the beginning of their lives. Later in life, children might do harm to themselves or others by unconsidered exercise of their rights; for example, a child might waste his or her property, thus in the long term depriving him/herself of the opportunity to utilize such property in his/her own interest. For such reasons, the rights of children to make legally valid decisions may be restricted to some extent and conferred on others. In particular to parents who, in many constitutions and documents on human rights, are granted far-reaching rights to decide on the way to raise their children.

The parents' right to bring up a child is no excuse for an arbitrary use of power. On the contrary, parents have a duty to consider their children's concerns. This includes the following: "While looking after, and raising, a child, the parents shall take into account the child's growing ability and growing needs to act independently and responsibly. As far as such is advisable considering the stage of development of the child, they shall discuss with the child issues of parental care, and strive for agreement, with the child." This is a how German law correctly defines the duty of parents (Section 1626 para. 2 German Civil Code).

In a philosophically-religiously neutral state parents are entitled to decide on the philosophical or religious concept which their children are to be familiarized with from their early age. Parents have the right to introduce their children to these concepts themselves or to use the facilities provided by philosophical or religious communities, i.e. the respective philosophical or religious education.

However, parents do not have the right to raise their children in an artificially created intellectual mono-culture keeping away from them everything that does not correspond with their religious or philosophical views. Children and adolescents have the right to develop their ability to make their own decisions with regard to philosophy and religion. They have the right to be provided a variety of stimuli (2. Youth and education).

With regard to the philosophical education of their child, parents are not entitled to ignore the child's wishes and convictions as they please. They do not have the right to impose religious acts on their children. If the parents' and child's opinions differ, the parents are obliged to search for a solution together with the child that takes into account the child's interest.

Religious acts claiming to be valid throughout the entire life of the child, such as the christening of infants and children, represent a problem. They are performed on babies who have never expressed the desire to be christened and on children whose agreement is not based on an independent decision but on the trusting adoption of their parents' religious views.

The philosophically-religiously neutral state cannot refuse parents the right to perform such religious acts on their children. This does not excuse parents from asking themselves whether they can justify to their children that they have anticipated his/her decisions and authorized an irrevocable religious act before the child has had the opportunity to give serious thought to the pros and cons of such in order to reach an independent decision. One day their child might come to adopt views that are diametrically opposed to such religious act. He/she might then see it as a burden that he/she was christened as a baby without having been asked first. Or perhaps he/she was asked first but far too early in life to be able to counter the parents' influence with an independent view.

What IBKA demands:

  • The philosophical self-determination of the child shall be respected. Any coercion of the child to religious acts shall be refrained from.
  • Children and adolescents are entitled to a variety of stimuli in order to develop their ability of philosophical and religious self-determination.

Health and freedom from bodily harm

All human beings have a right to health. The right to freedom from bodily harm is the logical consequence of this human right. Unfortunately, this right is violated far too often on religious grounds.

One of the worst violations of this right is the genital mutilation of girls and women that is quite common in some areas of Africa. This "circumcision" is often performed without the use of anaesthetics and without taking even the most basic measures of hygiene. It can lead to death or to serious health problems. All of the "circumcized" girls and women are to a great extent deprived of their ability to enjoy sexual pleasure.

By contrast, the effect of circumcision of the foreskin of boys, as practiced in Islam, Judaism and countries with Christian-Puritan character (for example: the USA) has a rather limited effect. However: If this type of circumcision is not necessary or advisable for medical reasons (phimosis), but is performed merely on religious grounds, it constitutes a violation of the rights of children: of children who are circumcized without giving their consent; of children who were forced to give their consent; and of children who, through massive religious influence were made give their consent.

Parents who deny their children necessary, even vital medical measures (for example: exchange transfusion) disregard their children's right to life and health.

Religious education can have devastating effects on the psychic health of children and young people. It can lead to the development of anxieties, such as fear of divine punishment or excessive fear of even the slightest failure. Religious education can lead to feelings of inferiority and guilt for no reason at all or not in proportion to the cause. Much damage results from religious taboos with regard to sexuality, such as the banning of masturbation.

Religion-induced psychic illness may result in physical illness. Children and adolescents need to be protected against psychic and psycho-somatic damage whether caused by religious or by profane circumstances.

But although modern societies generally have instruments in place to fairly protect children against being harmed by their parents' wrong educational measures, detrimental practices of religious education are generally tolerated owing to a misguided interpretation of religious freedom. The courts even shrink back from uncompromisingly applying the relevant laws inasmuch as religious practices are concerned.

What IBKA demands:

  • Education on, and the promotion of, the abandonment of physical injury for religious reasons shall be supported.
  • Action shall be taken against - at least - serious physical injury for religious reasons, for example the genital mutilation of women, with all suitable means, including applying penal law.
  • Seriously harmful religious educational measures shall be put a stop to just like other detrimental ways of upbringing children.
  • Inasmuch as any measures have been taken to protect children from being harmed by their parents, e.g. information in general, intervention by the youth welfare services, or legal provisions and prohibitions, such shall be consistently applied, even inasmuch as religion-driven educational measures are concerned.
  • As far as necessary, additional legal means shall be provided to protect children from educational measures which have proven to be considerably detrimental to their psychic health.
  • Inasmuch as parents obtain advice or support from Government authorities with respect to educational issues, such advice or support shall propagate the stoppage of detrimental measures of religious education.
  • Scientific research, information, and discussion on the consequences of religious education shall be supported. Such research, information, and discussion shall particularly focus on those aspects of religious education that lead, or are suspect of leading, to an impairment of psychic health.

Sexual self-determination

Each human being has the right to arrange his/her sexual behaviour according to his/her wishes, as far as this does not violate other people's rights. This should be a matter of course. However, the view that certain forms of sexuality are morally inferior even if they do not violate anybody else's rights, still exists.

Christian religion supports such views: The Old Testament calls homosexual intercourse between men an "abomination" that requires the death penalty (Leviticus = 3 Moses 20:13). In the New Testament, Paul calls homosexual intercourse ""unnatural", "shameful" and a "perversion" (Romans 1:26-27). The Roman-Catholic church still holds the view that a homosexual act is "in itself not in order", preaching "chastity" to the homosexual (Catechism of the Roman-Catholic church, paragraph 2357-2359).

IBKA opposes such views. They must not influence either public opinion or legislation.

Frequently, discrimination shows by homosexual couples being denied the opportunity to acquire the rights of married couples. To some couples, these rights are very important, because they want to put into practice their desire to live together. One example from Germany: Only if married can an employee terminate his/her employment in order to follow their partner without losing their claim to unemployment benefits for twelve weeks. For people who want to follow their partner to another country, this option of "following a spouse" is often the only way to make authorities to fulfill their wish.

The right to live with a loved one is an important element of self-determination. It is therefore important that no couple be wilfully denied this right.

What IBKA demands:

  • Everybody who, in his/her sexual conduct respects the rights of other people, is entitled to the same respect and the same rights. Nobody shall be discriminated because he or she is, for example, homosexual (i. e. lesbian or gay), bisexual or transsexual.
  • The rights of married couples shall not be a privilege of heterosexuals. All adult couples, be it man/woman, man/man or woman/woman, shall be able to freely decide whether they want to acquire the status of a married couple and the associated rights and obligations or not.

Prostitution

Prostitutes still suffer from a society that is partly characterized by Christian moral values who take out their aversion to prostitution on prostitutes. Prostitutes are held in contempt, they are denied rights and social security. This inflicts an injustice on prostitutes they have not deserved.

Adults practising prostitution on their own accord are exercising their right to self-determination. Any coercion of a prostitute on the other hand constitutes a serious restriction of self-determination.

What IBKA demands:

  • Prostitution and the use and support of prostitution should not be generally illegal or considered a criminal offence. This applies to prostitutes who have reached the age of majority and voluntarily come to an agreement with their customers.
  • Prostitutes shall have the same opportunities of social protection as other people in work, including, for example, access to statutory health insurance.
  • The legal discrimination against prostitutes, such as the lack of legal effectveness of agreements on their services shall be abolished.
  • Prostitutes have a right to be treated with the same respect as anybody else.
  • It shall not be possible to force anybody into prostitution, and nobody should feel pushed into prostitution because of a predicament. For those who do not, or no longer, want to be prostitutes, there shall be alternative options available to earn a living.

Family planning

If and when a child should be born is one of the most important questions in the life of every woman and her family. Therefore, self-determination in family planning is one of the most important aspects of self-determination.

Whilst family planning is successfully practiced in richer countries, there is a serious lack of it in poorer countries. In these countries, even today many children are born, although their parents would have preferred not to have a child or not to have another child at that time. But there is a lack of education and of effective contraception, not least owing to the ominous influence of churches and other religious communities.

In pursuing their objectives, churches and religions readily accept the mass impoverishment resulting from this prevention of family planning. An impoverished, uneducated population makes it much easier for the churches to anchor religious and ecclesiastical hierarchies in people's minds.

What IBKA demands:

  • Comprehensive information on methods of effective contraception and on the prevention of infections (e.g. HIV) shall be available to everybody. Such information shall also be available to all students through philosophically neutral sex education.
  • Competent, philosophically neutral advice centers for issues regarding sexuality, family planning, pregnancy and counselling of pregnant women in conflich situations shall be available everywhere in the country.
  • Effective contraceptives and precautions for the prevention of infections (e.g. HIV) shall be available to everybody who needs them.

Termination of pregnancy

Even the best contraception cannot prevent every unwanted pregnancy. Therefore it is important that pregnant women be able to determine whether they want to continue their pregnancy or terminate it.

  • Women shall have the option, at least in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, to freely decide whether they want to continue the pregnancy or terminate it.
  • Every pregnant woman who wants to have the child shall be entitled to implement her decision without facing serious financial difficulties.
  • Every pregnant woman who decides to have a legal termination of her pregnancy shall be able to do so locally and under reasonable conditions.
  • Facilities where a termination can be performed by qualified personnel on an out-patient basis shall be available everywhere in the country.
  • Pregnant women who have decided to legally terminate the pregnancy shall be allowed to opt for the method that suits them best. If a termination with drugs is the most suitable method for a woman, then she should be allowed to choose this method.
  • Women who have opted for the termination of pregnancy shall not be treated in a degrading manner nor be defamed as "murderers".
  • Penal law shall not become the means for the prevention of abortions that are performed according to the explicit request of the pregnant woman under medically unobjectionally circumstances. Any laws that provide punishment for such abortions shall be abolished or amended in such a way that they provide punishment only for abortions that are performed against the will of the pregnant woman.

The situation in Germany:

Counselling of pregnant women in conflict situations may be a welcome and useful service for women with unwanted pregnancies. In Germany this was made compulsory: If a woman wants to terminate her pregnancy she has to previously attend counselling session at a recognized advice center for unwanted pregnancies (Schwangerschaftskonfliktberatungsstelle). Without a certificate issued by this counselling center, legal termination of the pregnancy is not possible.

What IBKA demands for Germany:

  • Like Pro Familia [German association for sex counselling and family planning that is independent of religion and politics and has advice centers all over the country; the translator], IBKA demands: "... to recognize (unwillingly pregnant) women as responsible citizens who are generally capable of making responsible decisions without any interference from the state."
  • Compulsory counselling shall be abolished.
  • Counselling at counselling centers for pregnant women in conflict situations shall be a service made available to women, without imposing it on them.
  • The counselling shall be provided with open result; no woman shall be pushed into a certain decision.
  • Under no circumstances shall women be forced to reveal the reason for their request to terminate the pregnancy.
  • Section 218 German Penal Code shall be abolished or restricted to a regulation for abortions performed against the will of the pregnant woman.
  • No special statutory provisions on abortions where the life or health of women was put at risk through improper practice are required; the punishment can and should be pursuant to the provisions applying to any other improperly performed medical treatment.

Conscientious objection

IBKA opposes any compulsory service whatsoever. This particularly means that no one shall be forced into compulsory service that goes against his/her conscience.

Objecting to military service for reasons of conscience is a human right. The Human Rights Committee of the United Nations has recognized the right of each individual to object to military service for reasons of conscience (source: Document of the conference meeting of the Human Dimension CSCE in Copenhagen, no. 18).

The right to follow one's own conscience in such vital question applies to atheists and Christians alike, to the non-religious as well as the religious.

What IBKA demands:

  • Any compulsory service, including military service, shall be abolished.
  • The human right of each individual to object to compulsory military service for reasons of conscience shall be implemented worldwide.
  • Conscientious objectors, not basing their claim on religious grounds shall be given the same consideration as those basing their claim on religious grounds.

Death

Modern medicine is able to keep people alive for a very long time, even in cases of the most serious impairments to health. This is not always cause of joy. People are often frightened by the idea of having to lay helplessly in bed for many months, leading a life that has become totally meaningless to them. They are afraid of pain and other tormenting physical problems.

The same modern medicine can ease pain and physical problems. It can also help people who no longer want to live, to die in a humane manner.

Through the options available in modern medicine, self-determination in the last phase of life has become more important than ever.

However, these options are not always used in the patient's interest. All too often, people wanting to die because their life has become a burden to them, are left to their own devices by medicine. Active help in dying is refused, as sometimes is so-called "passive help in dying", i.e. the termination or omission of life-preserving measures. People who want to terminate their own life do not find any medical support and are sometimes even prevented from doing so.

This compulsion to live is caused by people trying to force their own values onto others with the support of the state; be it their own panic fear of death, or their Christian views, according to which all suffering is ordained by god and human life is unimpeachable. These views are still supported by a number of powerful members of the Christian church.

The ban on active help in dying is often supported by the argument that the murders performed on the physically and mentally disabled in the Third Reich - euphemistically called "euthanasia" - must never happen again. This disregards the fact that to help somebody who has chosen to die on his/her own accord cannot be compared with the killing of human beings who want to live.

What IBKA demands:

  • The human right to self-determination includes the decision on the timing of one's death for which the person making the decision takes full responsibility. This principle shall be generally accepted.
  • Terminally ill and incurable patients shall not be kept alive by intensive medical methods against their declared wishes. Advance provisions made by patients intending to refuse the use of life-prolonging medical measures under certain circumstances, shall unconditionally be respected by doctors and physicians.
  • The carefully considered decision of a human being to terminate his/her own life shall be respected. A suicide attempt shall not be thwarted by "rescue attempts" against the declared and carefully considered wish of the person in question.
  • The respect for a carefully considered decision over one's own death shall include cases where an individual needs the aid of another person to cause his/her own death. Whenever active help in dying is performed on a person such person's explicit and carefully considered request, such active help in dying shall be exempt from punishment.
  • If the decision to terminate one's own life is based on a serious and incurable illness or a serious disability, the suffering individual shall be entitled to medical support in order to realize his/her decision: i.e. either medical aid to terminate his/her own life or, if necessary, active help in dying performed by a doctor.
  • Suitable authorization procedures shall prevent the risk of using medical support for suicides or active help in dying if these do not correspond with the patient's right to self-determination. For example, when the wish to die was a sudden irrational reaction or was based on false assumptions regarding treatment options and healing potential, let alone in case of abuse, i.e. when somebody was pushed into the decision to die.
  • The right to freely determine the timing of one's own death naturally includes the right to stay alive with the support of doctors, even in case of the most serious impairments of health.
  • Individuals with serious illness and disabilities, too, shall, wherever possible, be able to live a life worth living, be active and have relationships with others. Nobody shall be driven to death by neglecting his/her needs or through inhumane conditions of life.
  • Pain and torturing physical problems shall be eliminated or relieved wherever possible. So far as this is only possible with severe side effects - e.g. fatigue and poor powers of concentration or the risk of becoming addicted or the danger of early death - patients shall have the right to decide which side effects they find acceptable.
  • The prerequisites regarding personnel and rooms for a person to die in a humane way shall be created in all hospitals.
  • The professional psychological care in hospitals and nursing homes shall not be a monopoly of religious pastoral care. For all sick or dying patients, aids shall be available, who are qualified from a human and from a professional point of view. Clergymen shall only get involved at the patient's explicit request.

The situation in Germany:

Deficiencies in the fight against pain constitute a problem, especially in Germany. Excessive fears of drug abuse have resulted in laws that make use of highly effective painkillers very difficult. This particularly applies to opiates, although morphine, in properly measured doses, is not addictive. The use of cannabis products to ease the pain of the seriously ill has also encountered legal impediments.

What IBKA demands for Germany:

  • A sufficient supply of medicines required to fight pain and torturing physical ailments. Laws that hinder or prevent such supply shall be amended.
  • The training of doctors in pain therapy shall be improved.