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50th Anniversary of United Nations “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”

JCWillke   |   January 01, 1999

Fifty years ago, on December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed by the United Nations General Assembly. This has had a tangible impact on the world we live in and has been the catalyst for many positive advances over the last five decades. Herewith, we offer you a brief look at its development. We then review some of its salient articles, profiting from fifty years of experience, social development and change, and then offer a few modest suggestions for updating several of its crucial points.

Some of us were adults back then and remember the events that led up to and surrounded the Declaration. Others have been told about, or have read about this. But, sadly, a large percentage of the citizens of the United States know nothing about this and, to be honest, care less.

Back then everyone knew of the Nazi atrocities. Many had been told and knew of, or at least suspected, similar atrocities by Stalin. It was a time of beginning of rebuilding, the Marshall Plan, but also the hardening of the lines between the West and Russia.

What had happened under totalitarian regimes in the 1930s, 1940s and during World War II was well known. The systematic violation of human rights had brought death, destruction and misery upon humanity. Hundreds of millions of people had been deprived of their basic human rights, had no say in public life, no freedom of conscience and no right to express their own opinions.

This “Universal Declaration” was created in the shadow of the concentration and extermination camps at a time when there were still millions of displaced people – refugees who had streamed across central Europe and still had not yet been settled. Large areas of the world, in effect, lay not just in material ruin, but also in moral ruin.

In this climate, like perhaps no other time in history, the importance of elementary human rights was glaringly clear. It was a time when it seemed that everyone was ready to change society – to change it in ways to ensure that the Holocaust, and all of the evils surrounding the Nazis, would never occur again.

But it was also in the shadow of imperialistic Marxist Communism, which had occupied Eastern Europe and was spreading its tentacles over much of the world. Many underdeveloped nations were threatened or had been swallowed up by Communist ideology. It is in this context that this Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated.

A beginning had been President Franklin Roosevelt’s State of the Union message in January 1941 when he announced his famous “Four Freedoms,” upon which a post-war international order was to be founded. They were: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of every person to worship God in his own way, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

The United Nations founding charter was passed in San Francisco in 1945. It introduced something quite new in world history. For the first time in international law, member states of the United Nations agreed to respect and protect human rights. The UN charter itself spoke of human rights but did not define them as to which specifically needed protection. In 1946, it assigned this task to a Commission on Human Rights, which set up an 8-member committee, led by Eleanor Roosevelt, to draft this document.

Members of this commission were a true rainbow of religious, social and national groups. A 400-page outline served as the basic working paper for the Committee. The Commission slowly came to a focus but was polarized by opposition from the Communist bloc. The differences were insuperable. While the Declaration presupposes that all men are naturally free, equal under the law and have unalienable rights, the Marxist states claimed that the individual’s position and rights were determined solely by his class and the respective conditions of production. The individual and his well being, to them, was not the basis and aim of all political activity, but instead he was reduced to being the means for collective aims. Human rights, as the West knew them and wanted them, were held in contempt. Accordingly, after an unsuccessful attempt to influence the Declaration to the Marxist way of thinking, those states withdrew their support.

After two years of negotiations, a draft was submitted to the UN General Assembly. Finally, after 1,400 rounds of voting on practically every word and clause, the Universal Declaration was passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations without a dissenting vote on December 10, 1948. The Communist countries abstained from voting.

In 1948 the Berlin Airlift began and the State of Israel was founded. In September of that year the World Medical Association issued its famous Declaration of Geneva which spoke of protection for human life from conception.

That was fifty years ago. We are now at the end of what has been probably the bloodiest century in the past two millennia. In some ways the world has improved vastly with the collapse of the Soviet Union as a Communist empire and the flowering of representative governments in so many areas of the world. But at the same time we are only too aware of the internal, moral decay of the last several decades.

It is time to look back but also to look ahead, time for a basic re-examination of this Declaration. Accordingly, let us examine certain articles of the Declaration which, developments have shown, need reclarification, strengthening and the insertion of one entirely new Article.

Overview: In a number of places, the document uses the generic “man” to indicate mankind or both men and women. This was fully understood fifty years ago. However, it is not necessarily true today, so a general change should be made in various places to say “men and women.” This would eliminate any possibility of interpreting these stated rights to vest only in men and not in women, a fact which sadly is the case yet in some nations in the world.

There are 30 Articles. Even though each of them is stated very succinctly, the total length makes it impractical for us to reprint the entire document in this newsletter.

Article 2 said: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.” This Article lacks something. There should not be a distinction

according to age, for that is a major factor in the push for euthanasia. In addition, people are being killed who have varying degrees of disability. That was not in the document and should be inserted. Accordingly, “age” and “disability or condition of dependency” have been added. By doing this, the issues of euthanasia, infanticide and abortion are included. The revised Article would read: “Distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, age, disability or condition of dependency…”

Article 6 read: Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” Remember that abortion has been introduced in some nations, specifically the U.S., by redefining the word “person” to exclude those not yet born. As a result, this huge loophole should be closed. Accordingly, the revision should now state: “Everyone, from the beginning of life at fertilization, has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.”

Article 12 is an example of updating by adding “or her” for gender specificity, which impacts on the areas that concern pro-life, pro-family people. It states: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his [or her] privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his [or her] honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

Article 16 states: “(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”

This looked sufficient 50 years ago, but marriage is under relentless attack today. One of the areas that was completely taken for granted then was the primacy of marriage and its central role in all of society. Marriage between a man and a woman was given special status hemmed in by various laws. The partners were, far more than now, legally, contractually bound one to the other. Parents had legal control of their children. They were primarily responsible for their children’s education, health and upbringing. This was not questioned. The laws of a nation and the community in which they lived supported parents in this role regarding their children.

But now this has changed to a significant extent, and there are forces abroad, specifically the tremendous power of United Nations agencies, which are tearing the family apart, and which are determined to create new family structures, specifically homosexual ones. There are forces that are tearing children away from their parents and assuming control of children. They would grant to a child degrees of independence and defiance of their parents never before known in history. The family is being sorely threatened.

To help protect the rights of parents in Article 16, leave (1) and (2) intact, but revise (3) as follows: “Marriage between a man and a woman, and the resultant family, constitutes the basic unit of society. The rights of a husband and wife to bear children shall not be infringed. As parents, they exercise, in love, the primary guardianship of their children and, with this, primary control of their educational, religious, social and medical needs. The family, as the natural and fundamental group unit of society, is entitled to protection by society and the state.”

A complete review leads us to suggest that one new article should be added. “Article 31”, although it would logically be inserted a bit earlier, is an area that wasn’t even thought of back then – medical experimentation. Yes, that had been done by Nazi doctors, but it had been so abhorrent that apparently it was felt it was not necessary to even mention it. Perhaps there were other reasons, but it was not included. Certainly, in 1948 no one was thinking of the kind of destructive experimentation on living human embryos and fetal babies in their mothers’ wombs that is being practiced today. This protection must be sewed into the document.

Article 31: “No one, from the beginning of his or her life at fertilization, shall be subjected to medical treatment or experimentation without the valid, informed consent of the subject, or from the appropriate legal protector thereof, understanding that research must have as its purpose the furtherance of the health of the individual.”

The above updating of the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights was submitted by Dr. J.C. Willke to those attending the fourth annual International Seminar on Euthanasia and Human Rights held at The Hague December 10, 1998, in The Netherlands. Dr. Willke is the president of the International Right to Life Federation.

To obtain a complete copy of the 1948 Declaration, plus a copy of the revised 1998 Declaration, please send $5.00 ($8.00 for international requests) to Life Issues Institute, 1721 West Galbraith Road, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45239.


Professional Ad Slicks Available

Life Issues Institute has professional ad slicks available for special events such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, the Supreme Court Anniversary and a general pro-life ad. The camera-ready artwork is available for $10.00 each, which includes postage and handling. MasterCard, VISA and Discover are accepted. Payment must accompany all orders.

Reaching Children with a Pro-Life Message

Many pro-life organizations actively work to educate children regarding the issue of abortion. A seasoned pro-life educator knows that a different approach is needed when dealing with the young. A fundamental goal is to teach the basic truth of fetal development, stressing that they were very special people while still inside their mothers’ wombs.

Life Issues Institute would like to share with those of you who educate children, two proven effective tools. They have been used nationwide for children pre-school through primary grades.

The first is a brief 10-minute video by Dr. and Mrs. Willke entitled, How Babies Grow. It doesn’t tell them how the baby got in or out of the mother. It merely describes in simple, familiar, pediatric language, how the baby grew while inside of her. With gentle, full-color pictures it teaches the miraculous humanity of the unborn child in a way that even toddlers can understand.

For instance, in showing the familiar picture of tiny feet, the dialogue is as follows: “When you were only 10 weeks old inside of your mother, you were so tiny you could have stood on your daddy’s little fingernail, and yet your body was already so perfectly formed that you had fingerprints.”

The 10 minutes is repeated twice for a total of 30 minutes running length of video. This simplifies its use at fair booths, church events, etc. When used at a convention booth, it usually blocks the aisles, as parents stop to watch it with their children. The brief length generally holds their attention for the full story.

The cost is $24.95 and is available through Hayes Publishing Co., 6304 Hamilton Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45224 (513) 681-7559. E-mail It is also available in a slide set with an audiocassette for $15.00.

We’d like to recommend another idea that can accompany the video as a tool to reach children. They are 3-inch, two-color stickers in the shape of a heart. The stickers include a picture of a mother and child with a message that reads Love Them Both. You can choose between a white or African American mother with her child. They are available from Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati. Several pro-life groups have reported great success when making these stickers available to children. An added plus is that the kids wear the stickers home and share their newfound knowledge with their parents. A roll of 500 is only $25. Various quantities are available. Contact RTL of Cincinnati, 1802 W Galbraith Rd, Cincinnati, OH 45239, (513) 522-0820. E-mail

If you’re aware of other tools to reach children with the pro-life message, please share them with Life Issues Inst.

Euthanasia Not Common Yet But an Increasing Concern

Into the growing literature about euthanasia has come an article by the well known and respected Dr. Linda Emanuel and her colleagues in the August 12thJournal of the American Medical Association. It was titled “The Practice of Euthanasia & Physician-Assisted Suicide in the United States.” The article is well worth studying in depth. It purports to be only the third legitimate such study carried out in the United States. Reporting of it in the secular press has varied widely and has frequently given the impression that physician-assisted suicide and direct euthanasia is considerably more common than a close reading of the study shows.

On the other hand, the reports in the media have sharply downplayed or completely omitted its rather specific negative findings. These findings are very disturbing. If these abuses are as common as reported in a climate where assisted suicide is a felony, how more frequent and serious will such abuses become if and when it is no longer a crime? Let’s examine the study.

First of all, it studied only 355 oncologists (cancer specialists). Grant that these physicians are those most frequently faced with such situations. However, it is unrealistic to assume that the incidence of euthanasia, or assistance thereof, by such specialists is representative of the profession as a whole. They face many critical and dying patients every day. The average physician cares for such patients far less frequently, so it would be logical to assume that the opportunity for euthanasia among oncologists is sharply higher than that among physicians in the ordinary practice of medicine and surgery. Therefore, we cannot take the percentages of doctors in this study as representative of your own physician or community.

Of the 355 oncologists interviewed in depth, 38, or 10.5%, actually had been involved once or more in their lifetime with direct euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide or a combination of the two. They were not asked whether the case that they reported on was the only time in their career, or whether there had been several or even frequent instances. So, in a sense, this, then, is about as misleading as to compare all unmarried women by categorizing them as virgins or non-virgins. Clearly, among non-virgins, there would be women with only one sexual encounter, but others who were very sexually active. Even so, the current study has merit.

There were four criteria used in requesting and investigating the doctors’ involvement in this – (1) that the patient was terminally ill. All patients in this study were listed as terminally ill. That meant that, by the physicians’ judgment, they would die within six months. It is to be noted that when this is a criterion in your state for proposing legalization of euthanasia, be very skeptical. A physician’s ability to predict how many months a patient has to live is about as reliable as predicting the weather. Except in the very near term when there are only hours or days remaining, doctors are frequently wrong. Also, “terminally ill” can be interpreted as being “incurably ill.” But if you have diabetes, you’re incurable, and the same is probably true with hypertension. These cases are not “terminal” but can be so interpreted politically.

The second criterion was that the patient request euthanasia one or more times. A very disturbing finding here was that in one case out of six, the family or the doctor requested it, not the patient, even when the patient was conscious.

The next criterion was that the patient has extreme pain and suffering. The study indicated that this was true in almost every case and that, in most cases, narcotics had been used. No further details were given. Misuse and inadequate use of narcotics is almost the rule in the US rather than the exception. In the well-documented amicus briefs submitted by the AMA to the US Supreme Court in 1997, the AMA beat its breast admitting that doctors were grievously inadequate in giving adequate pain relief. If your loved one is suffering pain, and that pain is not being properly relieved, don’t kill the patient, rather, get another doctor. If your doctor can’t control pain, get one who can. Pain can be controlled.

The fourth criterion was that there should be consultation with another physician, preferably a psychiatrist. This certainly is good advice, as a second physician reinforces the attending physician’s beliefs and decisions as well as distancing his judgment from whatever biases he may have. We know from other studies that 95% of people who commit suicide, or request it, are clinically depressed. And so, what was the score here? Less than half, 39%, of these cases of assisted suicide or euthanasia had consultation with another physician – and only one in twenty had a consultation with a psychiatrist. That is scary!

Overall, in only one case in three did the attending physician observe all four of these criteria. This is similar to the practice in Holland. But euthanasia is still a felony in the US. Think of how much more careless the profession may become if and when euthanasia is legalized in this country.

The article looked with apprehension on the fact that, of the physicians who had been involved in killing, one in four later regretted having done so. The authors state: “Given that this action is irreversible, such a high frequency of regret should be a cause for concern.” We certainly agree.

Another finding was one that we have found consistently in Holland also, and that is that one patient in six failed to die from the dose of medicine given by the physician to assist them in suicide. In Holland this is no great cause for concern, because if, after several hours, the patient has not died, the doctor there simply gives a lethal injection in the vein. It is highly unlikely, the authors state, that such direct euthanasia will be legalized in the US in the foreseeable future. The fact that such patients don’t die is simply stated with no “solution” offered. It is judged to be a cause for substantial concern. It should be!

Conclusion: A critical look at this study, which is well done, and by competent researchers, on the one hand gives less cause for concern than one would have judged from the newspaper accounts, but on the other hand gives ample cause for major concern. First of all, it studied only oncologists, who are not at all representative of the average practicing physician who attends many fewer critically ill and dying patients. Oncologists should have a considerably higher percentage of assisted suicide and euthanasia. Then it does not detail how many times each physician has committed physician-assisted suicide. In some cases he may have “assisted” only one patient in a lifetime of practice.

Another cause for concern was that one patient out of six was sent to the Great Beyond without that patient’s knowledge or request. Less than half had another physician in consultation and only one in twenty had a psychiatric evaluation. Most were in “extreme pain and suffering,” but the study does not in any way detail whether or not consultation for the pain had been requested, as oncologists are certainly not pain specialists. One doctor in four later regretted his actions. One patient-victim in six failed to die from the dose of “lethal” medicine that was given.

In summation, then, considering the huge number of terminally ill, dying and critically ill patients in the United States, the number of those who are killed by doctors or assisted in suicide is an extremely small figure.

One final caveat is in order, however. The same used to be said for doctors in Holland, but once the law allowed euthanasia, very soon a significant percent of doctors began to kill patients – and in a significant percent of cases they have been doing so without the patient’s knowledge or consent. The situation in the U.S. today still looks good, but we should be thoroughly warned as to what can and probably will happen if assisted suicide (euthanasia) is legalized.

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