The Right to Life between Absolute and Proportional Protection
19 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2010 Last revised: 5 Dec 2014
Date Written: June 4, 2010
One of the puzzles of human and constitutional rights law is whether there are any rights which are absolute. The question is important not only for practical purposes but also for the theory of human and constitutional rights: an absolute right presents a departure from what is now the ‘default’ in constitutional and human rights law around the world, namely the proportionality approach according to which an interference with a right is justified if it serves a legitimate goal and is proportionate to that goal. This paper tries to shed some light on the issue by focusing on the right to life. It proceeds by first presenting an account of the leading case in this area, namely the judgment of the German Federal Constitutional Court in the Aviation Security Act case, where the Court held that shooting down an airplane which was likely to be used as a terrorist weapon was a violation of the right to life in conjunction with the human dignity of the innocent passengers aboard. It then offers a few thoughts on the Court’s reasoning, specifically with regard to what it has to say about the idea of absolute rights. Having concluded that the judgment offers little help in illuminating this problem, it presents some approaches to absolute rights from moral philosophy and applies them to human and constitutional rights law. The conclusion is that the right to life will under certain circumstances be absolute or near-absolute, but that these circumstances occur less frequently than is sometimes assumed.
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By Leslie Green
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