The body enjoys a prominent place in moral and political thinking, public policy, and the law. It is often claimed or assumed that human beings possess a right to bodily integrity, such that others cannot permissibly interfere with it unless certain conditions are met. The idea seems to be that a right to bodily integrity specifically, and not some broader right to autonomy or bodily and mental integrity, is worth having or respecting for its own sake, and that the possession of such a right is largely uncontroversial. Given its prominence, we might expect it to be clear what the right to bodily integrity consists in and why bodily integrity is distinctly worth having or respecting. However, accounts of the precise nature and the value of bodily integrity remain surprisingly elusive. While the right to bodily integrity is often appealed to or asserted, its precise content and justification are rarely specified. Descriptively, it is unclear what is involved in bodily integrity and how broad it is in scope. Normatively, it is unclear why it is important and worth protecting by a right. This paper focuses on the latter, normative, question. The paper aims to clarify what makes bodily integrity or a right to it worth having or respecting. It considers several accounts of the right to, or importance of, bodily integrity, including capabilities, autonomy, trespass, self-ownership, and respect accounts. It argues that each of these accounts fails to justify the prominence of bodily integrity in our practices and discourse. It is questionable whether the accounts succeed in explaining why we ought to have a right to bodily integrity, rather than, for example, some broader right to, say, autonomy or bodily and mental integrity. More importantly, they do not explain the obviousness of the right to or value of bodily integrity.
This internal talk is for Oxford Uehiro Centre members and associates.
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