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Do animals have rights?

As I See It

Love for animals runs deep in Western culture. Favored pets enjoy medical care comparable to humans and diets of pricey chow that put a dent in middle-class budgets. Notwithstanding the attachment we have for our pets, and animals in general, do animals really have any rights?

Opinions vary widely on the subject of animal rights. On one extreme, the radical standard-bearer of the animal rights movement, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), holds that animals have virtually the same rights as humans. Accordingly, they believe that animals have a right not to be eaten, experimented on or to have their fur made into clothing. To further their philosophy, they have engaged in some unsavory conduct. PETA representatives have picketed medical research facilities, spray-painted fur coats and generally made loud noises in pursuit of their goal of human-like treatment of all animals.

At the other end of the spectrum, many people feel that animals are inferior species and are provided for our use and entertainment. Use includes eating, pursuing for sport and advancing medical science. They argue that having rights requires the capacity for responsibility and, since animals operate purely by instinct, they have no capacity for being responsible and thus no rights are accorded them.

A further argument against animal rights is that animals eat each other and therefore have no claim to moral consideration. In fact, animals do not have the capacity for moral judgement. Cheetahs eat antelopes and no amount of lecturing is going to convert one to a vegetarian.

It is common knowledge that animals are used in medical research and the research procedures are often cruel to the lab animal. It is also true that animal experiments have been a vital part of discovering cures for diseases that cause human suffering and death. Is extending the life or improving the quality of life for our families worth the suffering we inflict on lab animals?

Our society has voted that yes.

I think the argument that civilized society has an obligation toward animals is more legitimate than the supposition that animals have inherent rights which humans are obliged to recognize.

Some years ago, the author J. Neil Schulman, delved into the issue of animal rights in his essay, “The Illogic of Animal Rights.” According to Schulman, ethical considerations enter the picture only if humans are recognized as distinctly superior to other animals. If we are superior, says Schulman, then we may choose to treat animals with empathy by virtue of our superior nature.

Thus, if animals have no rights, we are free to choose how we treat them. Just as we may choose to act cruelly toward them, we may also choose to treat them with kindness. Most people react negatively when exposed to animal cruelty. It is our compassionate human nature.

When humans do intentionally act cruelly toward animals, it is often a sign of a deeper psychological problem. Deranged murderers often begin their reigns of terror by torturing animals when they are children.

In my opinion, our obligation to care for domestic animals exceeds our obligation to wildlife. After all, we caused domestic animals to lose their independence and now they must look to us for their every need. Deprived of their ability to survive in the wild, we are responsible for their welfare.

We can fulfill our responsibility to domestic animals by caring for them humanely. When they are slaughtered for food, it should be done in a humane manner. When we are no longer able to care for pets, a new home should be found for them or they should be taken to an animal shelter. With respect to wildlife, hunters and trappers have an obligation to harvest their quarry as humanely and efficiently as possible.

The issue of using animals for medical research is one of the most emotional that we must decide. I strongly oppose the reckless and irresponsible treatment of animals in research. On the other hand, I recognize the necessity of using lab animals responsibly in the furtherance of medical science. If sacrificing a lab animal to find a cure for an illness that threatens the health of my family is the question, then yes is my answer.

Thought for the Moment — The making of money, the accumulation of material power, is not all there is to living. The man who misses this truth misses the greatest joy and satisfaction that can come into his life — service to others. — Writer and editor Edward Bok (1863-1930)

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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