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. In the field of human rights, violation of the bodily integrity of another is regarded as an unethical infringement, intrusive, and possibly criminal.
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".
In the Republic of Ireland, bodily integrity has been recognised by the courts as an unenumerated right, protected by the general guarantee of "personal rights" contained within Article 40 of the Irish constitution. In Ryan v Attorney General it was pronounced that ""you have the right not to have your body or personhood interfered with. 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".
In a separate case M (Immigration - Rights of Unborn) -v- Minister for Justice and Equality & ors, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that the right to bodily integrity extended to the unborn. In a summary of the case in section 5.19, the Supreme Court stated:
"...the only right of the unborn child as the Constitution now stands which attracts the entitlement to protection and vindication is that enshrined by the amendments in Article 40.3.3 namely, the right to life or, in other words, the right to be born and, possibly, (and this is a matter for future decision) allied rights such as the right to bodily integrity which are inherent in and inseparable from the right to life itself".
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. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld right to privacy, which, as articulated by Julie Lane, often protects rights to bodily integrity. In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) 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 was protected by Roe v. Wade (1973). In McFall v. Shimp (1978), a Pennsylvania court ruled that a person cannot be forced to donate 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.
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, 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.
Two key international documents protect these rights: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political 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.
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 debate over children's rights to bodily integrity has grown in recent years. In the wake of the highly publicized Jerry Sandusky trial, parents have been increasingly encouraged to promote their child's sense of bodily integrity as a method of reducing children's vulnerability to being victims of sexual violence, human trafficking and child prostitution.
Methods of increasing children's sense of bodily autonomy include:
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".
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.