Human and Animal Rights
Posted By: One Voice
Source: Animal Liberation
How do we know what is right? How
should other people be treated? There are debates going on in society
about many issues, so obviously there is no easy answer to these
questions, even where humans are concerned.
In the case of humans, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights sets out a list of rights that people should have.
*Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
*No one shall be held in slavery or servitude
*No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
According to the United Nations, a
person may not be killed, exploited, cruelly treated, intimidated, or
imprisoned for no good reason. Put another way, people should be able to
live in peace, according to their own needs and preferences.
Who should have these rights?
Do they apply to people of all races? Children? People who are brain damaged or senile? The Declaration makes it clear that
basic rights apply to everyone.
To make a slave of someone who is intellectually handicapped or of a
different race is no more justifiable than to make a slave of anyone
The reason why these rights apply
to everyone is simple: regardless of our differences, we all experience a
life with its mosaic of thoughts and feelings. This applies equally to
the princess and the hobo, the brain surgeon and the dunce. Our value as
individuals arises from this capacity to experience life, not because
of any intelligence or usefulness to others. Every person has an
inherent value, and deserves to be treated with respect in order to make
the most of their unique life experience.
The idea of human rights and inherent value has not always
In previous centuries Africans
were captured and taken as slaves to American plantations. They were
cruelly treated, and many died or were killed. Families were split apart
forever. Slaves were considered to be savages without souls. They were
treated as objects to be exploited, with no regard for their feelings or
During the Second World War, Nazis
not only killed millions of Jews in concentration camps, they also
carried out scientific experiments on them. Jews were considered to be
undesirable and not real humans deserving of respect.
In each case the perpetrators of these atrocities
singled out groups that were in some way different, and claimed that
they were inferior. This inferiority supposedly justified the appalling
treatment. Both slave traders and Nazis denied the inherent value of
their victims, and instead treated them as objects to be exploited or
destroyed at will.
What about animals?
Do they have inherent value?
Do they, like humans, deserve respect?
There is no doubt that animals
experience a life, certainly the vertebrates (animals with backbones),
and possibly others. Like us, animals can feel pain and fear, but also
excitement and satisfaction. Close contact with animals shows that they
look forward to some events, and can clearly get a lot of enjoyment from
their lives, be it from basking in the sun, exercising, eating
favourite food, or interacting with others, as in playing and mutual
Certainly animals don’t have the
same abilities as humans. They can’t talk, write books or drive cars,
but neither can some humans. Do we say that humans who lack these
abilities have no value and no rights? Certainly not, because those
people still experience a life which can be filled with positive or
We don’t ask how intelligent a person is before we decide whether to eat them or experiment on them.
Regardless of intelligence, their life still has value to them!
Exactly the same is true of animals!!
In spite of species differences, we have in common the capacity for experience.
As philosopher Tom Regan has said in his argument for animal rights:
are each of us the experiencing subject of a life, a conscious creature
having an individual welfare that has importance to us whatever our
usefulness to others. We want and prefer things, believe and feel
things, recall and expect things. And all these dimensions of our life,
including our pleasure and pain, our enjoyment and suffering, our
satisfaction and frustration, our continued existence or our untimely
death — all make a difference to the quality of our life as lived, as
experienced, by us as individuals. As the same is true of those animals
that concern us (the ones that are eaten and trapped, for example), they
too must be viewed as the experiencing subjects of a life, with
inherent value of their own.”
If the inherent value of humans means that they have the right to be treated with respect, then the same applies to animals.
The points made earlier about human rights can be rephrased:
may not be killed, exploited, cruelly treated, intimidated, or
imprisoned for no good reason. Animals should be able to live in peace,
according to their own needs and preferences.
Animal rights and experimentation
If each individual has
inherent value, is it justifiable to harm one individual for the benefit
of others? Is the evil of violating the rights of that individual
outweighed by the good result that may
come of it?
The Nazis experimented on Jews,
and were condemned for it in the Nuremberg war crime trials. It is
accepted that individual humans may not be forced to take part in
harmful experiments, even though there is no doubt that better medical
knowledge would be gained in this way than by experimenting on other
species. This end (better medical knowledge) does not justify the wrong
that is done to the individuals that are experimented on. The same
principle applies to all people, including those that are brain damaged,
senile or mentally ill. They have value in themselves, and are not
objects to be used for the benefit of others.
The same is also true of animals. Using them as objects in experiments ignores their right to be treated with respect.
To quote Tom Regan again:
animals are not our tasters; we are not their kings. Because these
animals are treated routinely, systematically as if their value were
reducible to their usefulness to others, they are routinely,
systematically treated with a lack of respect, and thus their rights
routinely, systematically violated. This is just as true when they are
used in trivial, duplicative, unnecessary or unwise research as it is
when they are used in studies that hold out real promise of human
benefits. We can’t justify harming or killing a human being just for
these sorts of reason. Neither can we do so even in the case of so lowly
a creature as
a laboratory rat.”
Humans like to think of themselves
as the most important and valuable species on earth. Mostly they don’t
give reasons for this belief, but if pressed might say humans are more
intelligent than other animals. We have already seen that intelligence
is not what guides out behaviour towards other humans-we don’t
experiment on the mentally sub-normal.
Philosopher Peter Singer points out the contradiction in many
”Why do we lock up chimpanzees in appalling
primate research centers and use them in experiments that range from the
uncomfortable to the agonizing and lethal, yet would never think of
doing the same to a retarded human being at a much lower mental level?
The only possible answer is that the chimpanzee, no matter how bright,
is not human, while the retarded human, no matter how dull, is. This is
speciesism pure and simple, and it is as indefensible as the most
way animals are exploited and treated without respect is a prejudice
like racism. It is saying that some individuals don’t count simply
because they are of a different race (racism), or a different species
Prejudices have changed slowly
over the centuries-it is no longer acceptable to say that people of
other races, women, or the handicapped don’t count. It is also not
acceptable to say that animals don’t count.
As Peter Singer has said:
being capable of feeling anything, whether pain or pleasure or any kind
of positive or negative state of consciousness, must
But if it is wrong to violate the
rights of individuals by harming them in experiments, how can the
suffering caused by diseases be lessened? Here Peter Singer has said:
in our present situation we find ourselves faced with the dilemma of
inflicting harm on an animal in an experiment, or allowing harm from a
disease to go unchecked, the best possible solution is to find a way
around such a dilemma .“
Medical research would not stop
without animals. There is already valuable research going on that
doesn’t cause harm in the process.
For examples see Research without animals and the work of the Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research. This is the way around the ethical dilemma, and the way of the future.
Posted By: One Voice
Source: Animal Liberation