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  • Márcia Fervienza

Extremist Thinking and Human Rights: When Fear Blocks Progress

I've just finished reading the book "Gosnell, The Untold Story of America's Most Prolific Serial Killer." It discusses how the former abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell ran his clinic, completely unsupervised, lacking basic sanitary conditions. It describes the many crimes he committed and some of the lives that were lost in the process. It is a striking story. But what interested me the most was how it portrays the flaws of the extremist thinking that runs America and Americans' behavior.

One of the things pointed by the book is the lack of attention that Dr. Gosnell's unspeakable crimes and trial received by the media. Those outlets, which are supposed to inform the public, failed to do their job. So did the governmental agencies, which work is to oversee and protect the public's health, but never inspected the clinic's conditions and practices. This, the authors say, was because the topic at hand - abortion - was already controversial. Bringing attention to those crimes or claiming that more regulation was needed could threaten the right itself.

This is the fundamentally failed mindset that rules most of Americans when it comes to beliefs and politics. Because we are afraid of losing our hard-earned rights, we try to silence any conversation that questions how things are done. The assumption is that by creating regulations, we are taking the first step towards having our right eliminated. But is that true?

Every prosperous and functioning society is organized around rules. We may not like them because we feel that they constrain our freedom. But laws protect our general safety and ensure that other people don't abuse our rights.

Dr. Gosnell is a clear example of how rights without regulation can harm us. In Philadelphia, abortion is allowed until 23 weeks and five days of pregnancy. But, because no one inspected his work, he freely performed late-term abortions, risking patients' lives. This practice wound up risking women's right to abortion altogether.

As stated in the book, because Philadelphia is a liberal state, governmental agencies and politicians "looked the other way." And once authorities uncovered his operation, the media silently "decided" to leave it out of the public eye. After all, if his wrongdoings were made public, the critics of abortion would question the right itself. And nobody would want that.

I see here a parallel to the discussion around gun rights. Every time there's a mass shooting the topic of gun regulation comes back into the conversation. And every time gun owners hear the word "regulation" they jump saying that people want to remove their rights. The mindset operating here is the same: we assume that regulating gun ownership will later result in the removal of the right altogether. And, with that in mind, any argument is driven by fear. We then just resist any change with all our might, without giving it a second thought.

But fear can't and shouldn't be our guiding principle for anything, especially when it comes to defending our rights. Unfortunately, we still need regulations to avoid abuse and to protect us in the use of said rights. Or we wouldn't have Dr. Gosnells around running abortion clinics that meet no standards of health, ethics or safety. Nor would we have people who have mental illness wandering around with guns anytime, anywhere.

By silencing the conversation around regulation, we aren't preserving our rights. Instead, we are just preventing progress. What is the Constitution, if not a set of rules and regulations about our rights? That was progress. And to continue evolving, we need to keep on reassessing rules and regulations. We need to develop frameworks that make it safe for us to have and use our rights. And we need to discuss as a society what is in the best interest of all.

After all, America's extremely individualistic mindset served people to a point. Now we have to move towards a philosophy that puts the best interest of all above our personal interests. It's time to practice active listening and moderation.

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