instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A question of integrity

An objection Tommy raised to my argument in this post causes me to think a little harder about what constitutes respect for the bodily integrity of the human person.

In Casti Connubii, his 1930 encyclical on Christian marriage, Pope Piux XI writes:
70. Public magistrates have no direct power over the bodies of their subjects; therefore, where no crime has taken place and there is no cause present for grave punishment, they can never directly harm, or tamper with the integrity of the body, either for the reasons of eugenics or for any other reason. St. Thomas teaches this when inquiring whether human judges for the sake of preventing future evils can inflict punishment, he admits that the power indeed exists as regards certain other forms of evil, but justly and properly denies it as regards the maiming of the body. "No one who is guiltless may be punished by a human tribunal either by flogging to death, or mutilation, or by beating." [ST II-II,108,4,ad 2]

71. Furthermore, Christian doctrine establishes, and the light of human reason makes it most clear, that private individuals have no other power over the members of their bodies than that which pertains to their natural ends; and they are not free to destroy or mutilate their members, or in any other way render themselves unfit for their natural functions, except when no other provision can be made for the good of the whole body.
Integrity of the human body entails a kind of physical "wholeness," a wholeness of both physical completeness and natural functions -- or, if you prefer, of a physical completeness that itself entails the ability to function naturally.

I think everyone agrees that the sort of physical wholeness confirmable by physical inspection is a part of bodily integrity, so that any sort of intentional wounding of the body -- severing, stabbing, flogging, crushing, and so forth -- is an act directed against bodily integrity.

I'm not sure how far down the "natural functions" path everyone is willing to travel. I'd suggest, though, that if the Church counts having children as a natural function the impedance of which is contrary to bodily integrity, then such things as standing and stretching would also count. If crippling someone so that he can no longer stand is contrary to his bodily integrity, then would not binding him so that he can't stand also be?

Note that I haven't mentioned morality yet. (The Pope did, in the words I quoted, but he's allowed to.) To this point I'm just trying to scope the term "bodily integrity," and in particular to include within its scope the notion of the ability of the body to function naturally -- which is to say, to function according to the nature of the human body.

Another example of what I'm trying to suggest: It is a natural function of the human body to see. Insofar as an act renders a body unfit to see, the act is contrary to bodily integrity. So now I'm wondering, how far does the act of blindfolding render a body unfit to see?