Nov 6, 2007

Should animals have "rights"?

Should animals have rights? Animal torture, cosmetic animal testing, the use of tigers and elephants, etc in circuses, the killing of animals for fur.. I am strongly opposed to all of the above. I believe in respecting the sanctity of nature and preserving the environment in which animals live. But what about domestic animals and the use of animals for food? Where do you draw the line between Canadians eating cow meat (which is unthinkable in India), and Chinese eating dog and cat meat (which is unthinkable in Canada). What about the use of animals in traditional chinese medicine? Would you agree that your family pet would be better off in the wild to fend for herself? What about the overpopulation that would result in everyone letting their household pets out in the wild, not to mention the fact that our development of urban sprawls make the idea itself sound ludicrous. If one believes it's wrong to slaughter horses for human consumption shouldn't the same go for cattle and chickens? These are some pretty heavy issues that many are passionate about. Is it the slaughter itself that's wrong or the methods used? So much to think about....
Being pro-animal welfare, and a vegetarian, I come across a lot of opposition from both sides..and yet I am not opposed to animal rights, but the idea of total animal liberation is hard to on. Animal abolitionists, who believe animals shouldn't be used as human property for any reason whatsoever (including pets) tell me that I'm not doing enough, that I'm wasting my time, that their way is the way to go. Personally, I don't believe it is wrong to have pets provided they're treated as a member of the family and given adequate food, water, shelter, love and attention. I know that if i let my dog free or even my little hamster that they probably wouldn't last more than a couple weeks. Another thing I was thinking about today is that turkey toms are unable to mate with females on their own and female turkeys must be artificially inseminated. So if we were to release all turkeys into the wild, they would die off because of not being able to reproduce on their own.
I'm on the fence right now about where I stand on raising animals for meat. Other animals eat animals. It's arguable whether humans were meant to be herbivores or omnivores. It's also not very environmentally sustainable.. meat production wastes a lot of resources, and animal feces in such a great number pollutes our air and water. I consider myself a definite nature-lover, therefore I cannot justify eating meat for that reason, but the main thing is I just don't feel right about another animal having to die so that I can have a yummy meal when there are SO many other equally yummy options to choose from! It's just not necessary so i don't eat it. And it makes me feel great to think about the lives that I saved. But am I against others eating meat? Yeah, sure I am.. if I had my way everyone would be a vegetarian! But once I ate meat and didn't see anything wrong with it either, so I know I can't push my beliefs on others.. However, more importantly, I am MORE against the suffering that animals go through in the meat production industry. Yes, there are some farms that produce animals for meat that have very skilled and knowledgeable barn managers and people working there and the animals are provided for and cared for very well, but there are others that are not so good, and practices that I am against because it causes unnecessary suffering to the animal, for example: battery cages, dubbing, sow gestation crates, sheep mulesing, etc. There is also free range animal production which is a lot better than factory farms, but I don't eat that meat either because to me it's an animal that once lived, breathed, and valued it's life... but that's MY opinion and MY feelings towards meat eating and I know I can't push my views onto everyone so I choose instead to push the issue of better conditions for the animals in this industry.
I am taking an animal science class this year and the views expressed in that class are on the opposite scale. (I've actually had to speak with one of the professors after class because I was fed up with his derogatory statements about 'animal rights people'. I told him I think the class should be taught on neutral ground so we can determine where we stand on the issue of animal production on our own.) I feel a bit timid when asking questions regarding animal welfare in a specific area of production because I know that most of the students come from farming backgrounds and that most of them regard vegetarians as this weird breed of human aliens. lol.. I think the animal science area could use more people like me who are open minded but genuinely concerned for the welfare of animals and are interested in developing new methods of production and procedures that are more humane. Money and profit isn't everything.
So what about abolishing animal use completely and pro-animal rights? The issue falls under moral agents vs moral patients. Moral agents have the ability to freely choose or fail to choose to act as morality requires. They can be held accountable for right and wrong. Moral patients lack ability to understand moral principles and cannot be held accountable for right or wrong behavior. Moral patients may still have desires, they may perceive, remember, act intentionally, have a sense of future, may be self aware or self-conscious, and may have the ability to feel and display emotion, but they do not have the ability to understand right and wrong. For example in Jane Goodall's observation of wild chimps she once saw a mother and her daughter attack and eat a defenseless baby chimp. To moral agents, this type of cannibalism is morally wrong, but the chimps cannot be held accountable for this because of they don't have the same perceptions of right and wrong as moral agents do. ((this IS arguable.. they may have some grasp of right and wrong but that is a whole other discussion. For the moment I think most can agree that chimps don't have as high of an ability as mentally sound human beings to distinguish right from wrong. ... Someday I think I'd like to study the extent of which an animal understand s that concept and if and how it can be learned.. would be interesting but hard!)
Because animals don't have the capabilities to determine right from wrong (for example if my hamster ever got out and the cat got at her, the cat has no idea he is doing something wrong... which is demonstrated in the fact that one would question whether the cat eating the hamster is even wrong, because cats are natural predators to rodents.. my point exactly! ..) the animal world, moral principles do not exist like they do for humans. Animals can be taught behavior such as no pooping in the house, but apart from unpleasant consequences after pooping in the house, apart from this the animal doesn't understand that it is "wrong".
So that's where rights fall in. To have rights I think one needs to be able to be held accountable for choices and the use or misuse of those rights. To be able to be held accountable one must understand moral principles. Since animals fall under the category of moral patients and not moral agents, it is up to moral agents to care for and provide the most ethical and moral treatment of moral patients. That doesn't mean animals shouldn't be protected and treated well (we know it's the "right" thing to do!), but it is up to moral agents to make sure animals have the best lives possible, because as moral agents we should recognize that every life has intrinsic value!
However, sadly, often animals are mistreated and are victims of unnecessary cruelty by the moral agent. The moral agents also cannot determine amongst themselves where to draw the line. Some have no moral problem with circuses and others do. Some have no moral problem with research testing and others do. Some have no problem eating dogs and others do. So here is where I'll agree that animals do need rights because of humanities' shortfalls and clashes of moral principles. But what KIND of rights? "The Seattle-based Great Ape Project is campaigning for the United Nations to adopt a Declaration on Great Apes, which would see gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos included in a "community of equals" with human beings, extending to them the protection of three basic interests: the right to life, the protection of individual liberty, and the prohibition of torture". ( Can we extend these rights to every animal? I think the prohibition of torture should be without a doubt extended to every living creature capable of suffering. But what about liberty? Can we allow our pets free range of the city?...don't think so. But what about those wild animals kept in zoos and circuses? How do we determine what species to award which rights? Can we extend the right of life to every animal? In an ideal world maybe. Extending the right to life to every animal would mean humans would be unable to consume animals as food. But what makes it wrong for humans to do so and natural for non-human animals to kill for food? Think about it.
Because the animal rights issues are so complicated and getting everyone to agree on what rights should be afforded to animals and figuring out whether all should have the same rights etc would be impossible, I choose to advocate for animal welfare. It is something I can do NOW to reduce the suffering of animals. And I think it is a means to an end.. the more people become involved with animal welfare issues the better it is for the animals. We're already seeing an increase in interest in this area and already the UK and some states have left Canada in the dust by putting an end to cruel practices such as horse slaughter plants and battery cages. Eventually with more interest, Canada will follow suit... and EVENTUALLY, one day.. I hope that animals are awarded rights so that they are free from suffering and cruelty for good.

I'd like to note that the above blog is really me still forming my ideas as far as these issues are concerned, and the more I learn the more I find my beliefs and values towards these issues reshape themselves and change. So I welcome any comments, arguments, etc!

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