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Bodily integrity

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Bodily integrity

Bodily integrity is the inviolability of the physical body and emphasizes the importance of personal autonomy and the self-determination of human beings over their own bodies. It considers the violation of bodily integrity as an unethical infringement, intrusive, and possibly criminal.[1][2][3][4][5][6]


It is one of Martha Nussbaum’s ten principle capabilities (see Capabilities approach). She defines bodily integrity as: “Being able to move freely from place to place; being able to be secure against violent assault, including sexual assault ... having opportunities for sexual satisfaction and for choice in matters of reproduction”.[7]

Government and law


The Constitution of Ireland mandates that "you have the right not to have your body or personhood interfered with.[8] This means that the State may not do anything to harm your life or health. If you are in custody, you have a right not to have your health endangered while in prison."[9]

United States

The United States Constitution does not contain any specific provisions regarding the rights one has with respect to his or her physical body or the specific extent to which the state can act upon bodies.[10] However, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld rights to privacy, which, as articulated by Julie Lane, often protects rights to bodily integrity. In Griswold v. Connecticut the Court supported women’s rights to obtain birth control (and thus, retain reproductive autonomy) without marital consent. Similarly, a woman’s right to privacy in obtaining abortions (also a key reproductive right) was protected Roe v. Wade. In McFall v. Shimp, the court ruled that a person cannot be forced to donate body parts like bone marrow, even if such a donation would save another person's life.

Conversely, the Supreme Court has also protected the right of governmental entities to infringe upon bodily integrity. Examples include laws prohibiting the use of drugs, laws prohibiting euthanasia, laws requiring the use of seatbelts and helmets, strip searches of prisoners, and forced blood tests.[11]


In general, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms defends personal liberty and the right not to be interfered with. However, in certain unique circumstances government may have the right to temporarily override the right to physical integrity in order to preserve the life of the person. Such action can be described using the principle of supported autonomy,[12] a concept that was developed to describe unique situations in mental health (examples include the forced feeding of a person dying from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, or the temporary treatment of a person living with a psychotic disorder with antipsychotic medication).

One unique example of a Canadian law that promotes bodily integrity is the Ontario Health Care Consent Act. This Ontario law has to do with the capacity to consent to medical treatment. The HCCA states that a person has the right to consent to or refuse treatment if they have mental capacity. In order to have capacity, a person must have the ability to understand and appreciate the consequences of the treatment decision. The law says that a person is capable with respect to a treatment, admission to a care facility or a personal assistance service if the person is able to understand and appreciate the information that is relevant to making such a decision.

Human rights

The Human Rights and Constitutional Rights project, funded by Columbia Law School, has defined four main areas of potential bodily integrity abuse by governments. These are: Right to Life, Slavery and Forced Labor, Security of One’s Person, Torture and Inhumane, Cruel or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Two key international documents protect these rights: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Women’s rights

Though bodily integrity is (according to the capabilities approach) afforded to every human being, women are more often affected in violations of gender-based violence. These include sexual assault, unwanted pregnancy, domestic abuse, and limited access to contraception. These principles were addressed in the CCL Working Conference on Women’s Rights as Human Rights. The conference defined bodily integrity as a right deserved by all women: "bodily integrity unifies women and that no woman can say that it does not apply to them."

As defined by the conference participants, the following are bodily integrity rights that should be guaranteed to women:


The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states the following: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In particular, no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation."[14]

Genital integrity

Activists who oppose genital modification and mutilation are often called intactivists or genital integrity activists. In North America, the genital integrity movement primarily focuses on circumcision of male infants and children and to a lesser but still prevalent extent, intersex surgery. Such activists tend to have little or no issue with consenting and informed adults undergoing surgery. They sometimes promote bodily integrity.[15]

See also


  1. ^ The Limits of Bodily Integrity Ruth Austin Miller - 2007
  2. ^ Communication Technology And Social Change Carolyn A. Lin, David J. Atkin - 2007
  3. ^ Civil Liberties and Human Rights Helen Fenwick, Kevin Kerrigan - 2011
  4. ^ Xenotransplantation: Ethical, Legal, Economic, Social, Cultural Brigitte E.s. Jansen, Jürgen W. Simon, Ruth Chadwick, Hermann Nys, Ursula Weisenfeld - 2008
  5. ^ Personal Autonomy, the Private Sphere and Criminal Law Peter Alldridge, Chrisje H. Brants - 2001, retrieved 29 May 2012
  6. ^ Privacy law in Australia Carolyn Doyle, Mirko Bagaric - 2005
  7. ^ Nussbaum, Martha C. Sex and Social Justice. Oxford UP, 1999. 41-42. Print.
  8. ^ Ryan v Attorney General [1965] 1 IR 294 at 295. Judgement by Kenny J: "That the general guarantee of personal rights in section 3 (1) of Art. 40 extends to rights not specified in Art. 40. One of the personal rights of the citizen protected by the general guarantee is the right to bodily integrity."
  9. ^ "Right to Bodily Integrity." Citizens Information. 19 Mar. 2008. Citizens Information Board. 4 Apr. 2011 .
  10. ^ Lane, Julie. "Bodily Integrity, Reproductive Liberty and Legal Personhood authored by Lane, Julie." All Academic Inc. 2005. 05 Apr. 2011
  11. ^ Lane, Julie. "Bodily Integrity, Reproductive Liberty and Legal Personhood authored by Lane, Julie." All Academic Inc. 2005. 05 Apr. 2011
  12. ^
  13. ^ Reilly, Niamh. "Bodily Integrity and Security of Person." Women's Human Rights Campaign Ireland. 05 Apr. 2011 .
  14. ^ United Nations. "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights." Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. UN, 23 Mar. 1976. Web. 13 Apr. 2011. .
  15. ^ Bodily Integrity and the Politics of Circumcision: Culture, Controversy and Change George C. Denniston - 2006
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