The Magazine

Defining Torture Down

Every policy the left dislikes becomes a crime against humanity.

Apr 1, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 28 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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And Méndez wants to protect drug addicts from torture. “In some cases,” he fumes, “the laws specifically single out the status of drug user as a stand-alone basis for depriving someone of custody or parental rights.” Imagine that!

To be sure, many of the actions and omissions that Méndez identifies in his report are clearly negligent, abusive, or inhumane. Denying treatment to AIDS patients is obviously cruel and unacceptable. So are involuntary sterilization, wrongful sentencing to psychiatric hospitals, physical and sexual abuse in medical facilities, and medical discrimination against people with disabilities. State policies that impede the adequate provision of pain control beg for a cure. But something can be wrong, indeed highly abusive, and still not be usefully equated with torture. 

The broad goal of the U.N. report is to impose universally its preferred ethical worldview. For example, the special rapporteur “calls upon all States” in which abortion is legal to “ensure that services are effectively available.” He also recommends adopting “a human rights-based approach to drug control,” closing all “compulsory drug detention and ‘rehabilitation’ centers,” to be replaced by “rights-based health and social services in the community.” But such policy questions are best addressed by sovereign states, not through an international effort to eliminate torture. 

The political left—which includes the U.N. bureaucracy—loves to redefine words so as to stigmatize controversial policies with which it disagrees. Now, Méndez (who moved to the United States in 1977, after being expelled from Argentina for courageous opposition to the dictatorship) has asked for an official invitation from the U.S. government to assess how much torture we permit in health care settings. Just imagine the New York Times headlines reporting on his visits to, say, states that impose waiting periods before abortions: “Torture in 26 U.S. States!” NARAL will be thrilled.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. He also consults for the Patients Rights Council and the Center for Bioethics and Culture.


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