Should Animals Have Rights?
- Animal Welfare or Animal Rights?
- What Differences Make a Difference?
- The Capacity for Suffering
- Animal Consciousness and Emotion
- The Morality of Animal Rights
- The Animal Rights Movement
- A Range of Concerns for Animals
Currently, most people do not think of animals as having rights. People can own animals, making them property.
People can raise, slaughter, and eat farm animals. People can confine animals to cages and use them for research or display them in zoos. People can force animals to compete in sports such as dog racing and rodeos. People can track, kill, and exhibit trophies of wild animals. Although people are able to use and control animals in many ways, there are numerous laws in place to govern these activities. These laws were established to prevent the mistreatment of animals by people.
One of the earliest steps in promoting the humane treatment of animals was the creation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in London in the 1820s. The formation of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) followed in New York in 1866. The goal of these organizations was to bring attention to the suffering of animals at the hands of people. By the late 1800s, several other organizations were founded in the United States to campaignPage 10 | Top of Articleagainst animal cruelty. These groups helped create some of the first anticruelty laws designed to protect animals from harsh treatment and neglect.
One of the first of these laws was passed in New York in 1867. The provisions of the law were significant, because they demonstrated that although animals were legal property, they must be treated with concern and cared for under humane guidelines. The law created penalties for abusing animals, keeping animals for fighting, transporting animals in a cruel manner, and abandoning old or sick animals. Within a few years similar laws were enacted in many other states.
Current laws vary among states. Most address meeting an animal's basic needs by providing food, water, shelter, and medical
Page 11 | Top of Articleattention. Others cover specialized topics such as prohibiting the use of chicks and rabbits as contest prizes (California), regulating the confinement of pregnant pigs (Florida), and requiring that dogs be fitted with collars bearing identification tags (Rhode Island). Many laws now also govern the hunting or harassment of wild animals.
Animal Welfare or Animal Rights?
Animal welfare laws aim to eliminate the unnecessary suffering of animals that are used for purposes considered necessary to people. Generally, these purposes are evaluated based on the benefit they provide people. If human interests can be served through the use of an animal, then that purpose is considered necessary. For example, it is generally considered acceptable to kill animals for food or use them for medical research, because those purposes benefit people. Animal welfare laws ensure that animals used in this manner are provided with the best lives possible, given their circumstances. People concerned with animal welfare agree that animals should not be made to suffer unnecessarily to benefit people.
Animal welfare is not the same thing as animal rights. People who work on animal welfare issues use science to determine ways to humanely care for animals. The animal rights movement, however, is based on an overall belief system. Supporters of animal rights oppose the idea of measuring the value of an animal's life in terms of its benefit to people. This mindset, they believe, reinforces the idea that animals are simply property. Instead of focusing on the treatment of animals, some people feel the real question should be whether the use of animals by
people can be justified at all. Trying to balance human interests with those of animals is unrealistic, they believe, because human interests will always win out. Gary Francione, a noted professor of animal rights law, explains:
The human property interest will almost always prevail. The animal in question is always a "pet" or a "laboratory" animal, or a "game" animal, or a "food" animal, or a "rodeo" animal, or some other form of animal property that exists solely for our use and has no value except as a means to our ends. There is really no choice to be made between the human and the animal interest because the choice has already been predetermined by the property status of the animal.2
For this reason Francione advocates a whole new way of looking at animals. Instead of considering them as property owned by people- as is the case in virtually all societies-he believes in applying "the principle of equal consideration." This principle proposes that the interests of animals should count as much as the interests of people. This does not mean that animals should have all the same rights as people. Granting animals freedom of speech or the right to vote would obviously make no sense. To Francione, equal consideration means that "we must extend to animals the one basic right that we extend to all human beings: the right not to be treated as things."3 Using this principle, instead of applying animal welfare laws to govern the size of the cages used to house egg-laying chickens, an animal rights supporter would propose doing away with chicken farms entirely, because using chickens for egg-laying violates their right not to be used as a human resource. Most animal rights supporters believe that it is never necessary to harm or kill animals to benefit people.
What Differences Make a Difference?
The idea that animals deserve the same considerations as people gained a growing following in the 1970s, leading to the birth of the modern animal rights movement. At that time people Page 14
Top of Articlebegan to question why animals should be considered inferior to humans. To answer this question, they looked for qualities that separate people and animals. One quality they considered was the use of language. While no animals use human language, scientific studies have discovered that many animals do use complex languages for communicating with others of their kind. Another area in which humans were once thought to be superior to
Page 15 | Top of Articleanimals was in the use of tools. However, it is now well-known that many animals use and even make tools.
One argument often made to separate people from animals is that people have greater intelligence and the ability to reason. However, long-term studies of animals such as chimpanzees and elephants have revealed startling insights into the abilities of animals to think in complex ways, including counting, planning for the future, deceiving others, and adjusting their behavior to new situations. This complex behavior makes it difficult to dismiss the idea that some animals possess intelligence and the ability to reason.
In addition, not all humans are smarter than animals. Although intelligence varies widely among species and individuals, animals are smart enough to survive in the situations for which they are adapted. If people were measured by animal standards, author Mark Bekoff believes, humans would likely fall short. "There are no animals who can program computers or practice law," he says. "But there are no humans who can fly like birds, swim like fish, run as fast as cheetahs, or carry as much weight-relative to their own body weight-as ants. So are humans unique? Yes, but so are all other animals. The important point that needs much discussion focuses on the question 'what differences make a difference?'"4
The Capacity for Suffering
Animal rights supporters argue that the tests of language, tool use, and intelligence fail to provide evidence of great enough differences between animals and people to justify human superiority. Instead of looking for reasons to defend harming animals, they prefer pointing to reasons why animals should be entitled to the same protection from harm as people. Their argument is based on the issue of morality, or how people treat others. "Humane treatment of animals is first and foremost a moral issue; it concerns how humans ought to behave toward animals,"5 says Francione. Although animal rights proponents acknowledge there are clear differences between animals and people, they point out that animals share one overriding similarity with people-the ability to suffer.
The capacity of animals to suffer is the key argument made for granting animals rights. In 1970 Richard Ryder coined the term speciesism to describe the practice of hurting others simply because they belong to a different species. Speciesism, Ryder believed, was a form of discrimination on a par with racism and sexism and was morally wrong. Ryder and other animal rights proponents believe that it is morally wrong to cause an animal to suffer for any reason, even if that animal's suffering would benefit people. To them, the suffering of an animal should be considered the same as human suffering. "We can treat different species differently, but always we should treat equal suffering equally,"6 Ryder says.
How does one evaluate animal suffering? Part of the answer lies with an animal's ability to feel pain. At one time many people thought that animals were merely living beings, unable to think or feel pain like people do. Today, however, most people recognize that certain animals react to pain by crying out or trying to flee, just as people do. Biologically, people have much in common with many animals, such as birds and mammals. Because they possess similar nervous systems, one might conclude that humans and animals process pain in a similar fashion. Less is understood about the ways that "lower" animals such as fish or invertebrates feel pain.
Animal Consciousness and Emotion
Even if animals do feel pain, is their experience the same as human pain? Certainly what is painful to one animal may not necessarily Page 17
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be painful to another. For example, a horse would barely feel a slap that might be deadly to a mouse. When does the feeling of pain become suffering? Can suffering occur without physical pain, such as suffering from fear or anxiety?
For some people the answers lie in whether or not animals have an awareness of themselves and their place in the world. This awareness is called consciousness. People who oppose granting rights to animals argue that human consciousness far surpasses that of animals. "Some animals (cats and dogs) clearly think. But only humans think about thinking,"7 explains L. Neil Smith. Unlike animals, humans use their consciousness to create purpose to their lives and appreciate its value and quality. As
a result, it is argued that animals' lives can never equal those of humans. "The fullest chicken life there has ever been, so science suggests, does not approach the full life of a human; the differences in capacities are just too great,"8 insists philosopher R.G. Frey. Author Stephen Budiansky agrees:
Our ability to have thoughts about our experiences turns emotions into something far greater and sometimes far worse than mere pain. . . . Sadness, pity, sympathy, condolence, self-pity, ennui, woe, heartbreak, distress, worry, apprehension, dejection, grief, wistfulness, pensiveness, mournfulness, brooding, rue, regret, misery, despair-all express shades of the pain of sadness whose full meaning comes only from our ability to reflect on their meaning, not just their feeling. . . . Consciousness is a wonderful gift and a wonderful curse that, all the evidence suggests, is not in the realm of the sentient experiences of other creatures.9
While it may be impossible to evaluate the degree to which animals are conscious, that question is irrelevant to most animal rights activists. Bekoff agrees that understanding animal consciousness has value, but he argues that "well-being centers on what animals feel, not what they know."10 In his view, a cow doesn't need to understand its purpose in life to experience suffering. "Human self-awareness may be different, but 'different' does not necessarily translate into 'better' in any moral sense,"11 argues Francione.
In fact, in some instances animals may show greater consciousness than some people. Author and animal rights leader Peter Singer explains:
A chimpanzee, dog, or pig, for instance, will have a higher degree of self-awareness and a greater capacity for meaningful relations with others than a severely retarded infant or someone in a state of advanced senility. So if we base the right to life on these characteristics we must grant these animals a right to life as good as, or better than, such retarded or senile humans.12
Noted primate expert Jane Goodall is an outspoken advocate for animal rights and has an explanation for why some people
Page 20 | Top of Articlehold the view that animals lack any degree of consciousness: "It is easier to do unpleasant things to unfeeling objects-to subject them to painful experiments, raise them in intensive factory farms, and hunt, trap, eat, and otherwise exploit them-than it is to do these things to sapient, sentient beings. Fear in a monkey, a dog, or a pig being is probably experienced in much the same way as it is in a human being."13
The Morality of Animal Rights
Many people concerned with the welfare of animals readily admit that animals can think, feel emotions, and suffer if mistreated. They also believe that animals have basic biological rights, such as the ability to find food, water, and shelter and to reproduce. However, they disagree with the idea of providing rights to animals for moral reasons. "Because only humans are capable of moral and ethical behavior, only humans would have moral and ethical rights,"14 explains animal sciences professor Leland Shapiro. Nature is often cruel; a lion makes no moral judgment about killing a gazelle, and housecats often toy with their injured prey before killing it. "One cannot assign moral rights to an individual who does not have moral responsibilities,"15 says Shapiro.
In fact some people consider it immoral to consider animals equal to humans. University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein explains:
We have quite enough difficulty in persuading or coercing human beings to respect the rights of their fellows, Page 21 | Top of Articleso that all can live in peace. By treating animals as our moral equals, we would undermine the liberty and dignity of human beings-making the slaughters of [Adolf] Hitler, [Joseph] Stalin, or Pol Pot seem no worse than the daily activity of preparing cattle for market. That is one kind of moral equivalence we must never allow. Animals are properly property. To misunderstand the rights of animals is to cheapen the rights of human beings.16
The Animal Rights Movement
Many people are concerned about the treatment of animals. Over four hundred organizations exist in the United States to promote animal welfare and animal rights. These organizations hold a wide variety of viewpoints regarding the use of animals. Traditional humane organizations seek to prevent animal cruelty and to improve treatment of animals, especially pets. Other welfare groups advocate improving the lives of animals used in laboratories or raised for food. The most vocal animal rights Page 
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organizations, however, present much stronger messages and often employ aggressive methods to reach their goals. One of the largest animal rights groups is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), claiming nearly 1.8 million members and supporters. PETA's many programs include campaigns against the livestock and fur industries, the use of animals for research, and the use of animals for entertainment.
Many animal rights organizations have goals similar to those stated by activist Tom Regan. "It is not larger, cleaner cages that justice demands, . . ." he says "but empty cages; not 'traditional'Page 23 | Top of Articleanimal agriculture, but a complete end to all commerce in the flesh of dead animals; not 'more humane' hunting and trapping, but the total eradication of these barbarous practices."17
A Range of Concerns for Animals
Because some animal rights organizations do not openly express their goals in this manner, many of their members do not realize they are supporting campaigns to end the use of animals by people. In a 2003 Gallup poll, some people who stated their support for giving animals the same rights as people also stated that they opposed bans on medical testing of animals and tighter laws protecting farm animals. Many people also stated a preference for giving moral consideration to dogs and cats but not chickens or rats. These results demonstrate the public's widespread confusion about the difference between animal welfare and animal rights. Although many people claim to support animal rights, in reality many have views supporting animal welfare instead.
Many people are concerned about the well-being of animals. At one end of the spectrum are people who embrace the philosophy of animal rights. At the other end are people who believe animals should have no rights at all. Most people have viewpoints that fall somewhere between these two extremes. Some people may oppose keeping farm animals in certain conditions but have no moral opposition to eating meat. Others may accept the use of rats and mice in medical research but oppose using primates for that purpose.
In Ryder's view, "Basically, it boils down to cold logic. If we are going to care about the suffering of other humans, then logically we should care about the suffering of non-humans too. . . . We all, thank goodness, feel a natural spark of sympathy for the sufferings of others. We need to catch that spark and fan it into a fire of rational and universal compassion."18