Newsletter - Animal Writes © sm
27 October 1999


"What do you mean by Ďanimal rightsí?"

Animal rights means that animals deserve certain kinds of consideration -- consideration of what is in their own best interests regardless of whether they are cute, useful to humans, or an endangered species and regardless of whether any human cares about them at all (just as a mentally-challenged human has rights even if he or she is not cute or useful or even if everyone dislikes him or her). It means recognizing that animals are not ours to use -- for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation.

"What is the difference between animal rights and animal welfare?"

Animal welfare theories accept that animals have interests but allow these interests to be traded away as long as there are some human benefits that are thought to justify that sacrifice.

Animal rights means that animals, like humans, have interests that cannot be sacrificed or traded away just because it might benefit others. However, the rights position does not hold that rights are absolute; an animalís rights, just like those of humans, must be limited, and rights can certainly conflict.

Animal rights means that animals are not ours to use for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation. Animal welfare allows these uses as long as "humane" guidelines are followed.

"What rights should animals have?"

Animals have the right to equal consideration of their interests. For instance, a dog most certainly has an interest in not having pain inflicted on him or her unnecessarily. We therefore are obliged to take that interest into consideration and respect the dogís right not to have pain unnecessarily inflicted upon him or her.

However, animals donít always have the same rights as humans, because their interests are not always the same as ours and some rights would be irrelevant to animalsí lives. For instance, a dog doesnít have an interest in voting and therefore doesnít have the right to vote, since that right would be as meaningless to a dog as it is to a child.

"Where do you draw the line?"

The renowned humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, who accomplished so much for both humans and animals in his lifetime, would take time to stoop and move a worm from hot pavement to cool earth. Aware of the problems and responsibilities an expanded ethic brings with it, he said we each must "live daily from judgment to judgment, deciding each case as it arises, as wisely and mercifully as we can."

We canít stop all suffering, but that doesnít mean we shouldnít stop any. In todayís world of virtually unlimited choices, there are usually "kinder, gentler" ways for most of us to feed, clothe, entertain, and educate ourselves than by killing animals.

"What about plants?"

There is currently no reason to believe that plants experience pain, devoid as they are of central nervous systems, nerve endings, and brains. The main reason that animals have the ability to experience pain is as a form of self-protection. If you touch something that hurts and could possibly injure you, the pain will teach you to leave it alone in the future. Since plants cannot locomote to escape pain and therefore do not have the need to learn to avoid certain things, the ability to feel pain would be superfluous and evolutionarily illogical in plants.

Furthermore, even if plants were able to suffer, it wouldnít justify causing pain and distress to animals like dogs, cows, rats, or chickens, who we know are capable of suffering a great deal.

"Wasnít Hitler in favor of animal rights?"

Although the Nazis purported to pass an anti-vivisection bill, they did not. In fact, they were required by law to first perform their experiments on animals before carrying them out on humans. Experiments on humans did not replace animal experiments; on the contrary, animal experiments made them possible. John Vyvyan in The Dark Face of Science summed it up correctly: "The experiments made on prisoners were many and diverse, but they had one thing in common: All were in continuation of or complementary to experiments on animals. In every instance, this antecedent scientific literature is mentioned in the evidence; and at Buchenwald and Auschwitz concentration camps, human and animal experiments were carried out simultaneously as parts of a single programme."

However, even if this weren't the case, the merits of an idea cannot be determined by the character of its proponents. If Hitler believed in evolution, does that mean we should not believe in evolution? What if Gandhi also believed in evolution -- how would we reconcile the two? An idea must be judged on its own merits.

"Itís fine for you to believe in animal rights, but you shouldnít tell other people what to do."

Now you are telling me what to do!

Everybody is entitled to their own opinions, but freedom of thought does not always imply freedom of action. You are free to believe whatever you want as long as you donít hurt others. You may believe that animals should be killed, that black people should be enslaved, or that women should be beaten, but you donít always have the right to put your beliefs into practice.

As for telling people what to do, society exists so that there will be rules governing peopleís behavior. The very nature of reform movements is to tell others what to do -- donít use humans as slaves, donít sexually harass women, etc. -- and all movements initially encounter opposition from people who want to go on doing the criticized behavior.

"Animals donít reason, donít understand rights, and donít always respect our rights, so why should we apply our ideas of morality to them?"

Because an animalís inability to understand and adhere to our rules is as irrelevant as a childís or mentally handicapped personís inability to do so. Animals are not usually capable of choosing to change their behavior, but human beings have the intelligence to choose between behavior that hurts others and behavior that doesnít.

"Where does the animal rights movement stand on abortion?"

There are people on both sides of the abortion issue in the animal rights movement, just as there are people on both sides of animal rights issues in the pro-life movement. And just as the pro-life movement has no official position on animal rights, neither does the animal rights movement have an official position on abortion.

"Itís almost impossible to avoid using all animal products; if youíre still causing animal suffering without realizing it, what's the point?"

It is impossible to live your life without causing some harm; weíve all accidentally stepped on ants or breathed in gnats, but that doesnít mean we should intentionally cause unnecessary harm. Just because you might accidentally hit someone with your car is no reason to run someone over on purpose.

"What about all the customs, traditions, and jobs that depend on using animals?"

The invention of the automobile, the abolition of slavery, and the end of World War II also necessitated job retraining and restructuring. This is simply an ingredient in all social progress -- not a reason to deter progress.

"Donít animal rights activists commit Ďterroristí acts?"

The animal rights movement is nonviolent. One of the central beliefs shared by most animal rights people is rejection of harm to any animal, human or otherwise. However, any large movement is going to have factions that believe in the use of force.

"How can you justify the millions of dollarsí worth of property damage by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF)?"

Throughout history, some people have felt the need to break the law to fight injustice. The Underground Railroad and the French Resistance are both examples of people breaking the law in order to answer to a higher morality.

"The ALF," which is simply the name adopted by people acting illegally in behalf of animal rights, breaks inanimate objects such as stereotaxic devices and decapitators in order to save lives. It burns empty buildings in which animals are tortured and killed. ALF "raids" have given us proof of horrific cruelty that would not have been discovered or believed otherwise. They have resulted in officialsí filing of criminal charges against laboratories, citing of experimenters for violations of the Animal Welfare Act, and, in some cases, shutting down of abusive labs for good. Often ALF raids have been followed by widespread scientific condemnation of the practices occurring in the targeted labs.

"How can you justify spending your time on animals when there are so many people who need help?"

There are very serious problems in the world that deserve our attention; cruelty to animals is one of them. We should try to alleviate suffering wherever we can. Helping animals is not any more or less important than helping human beings -- they are both important. Animal suffering and human suffering are interconnected.

"Most animals used for food, fur, or experiments are bred for that purpose."

Being bred for a certain purpose does not change an animalís biological capacity to feel pain and fear.

"God put animals here for us to use; the Bible gives us dominion over animals."

Dominion is not the same as tyranny. The Queen of England has "dominion" over her subjects, but that doesn't mean she can eat them, wear them, or experiment on them. If we have dominion over animals, surely it is to protect them, not to use them for our own ends. There is nothing in the Bible that would justify our modernday policies and programs that desecrate the environment, destroy entire species of wildlife, and inflict torment and death on billions of animals every year. The Bible imparts a reverence for life; a loving God could not help but be appalled at the way animals are being treated.

"Animals in cages on factory farms or in laboratories donít suffer that much because theyíve never known anything else."

To be prevented from performing the most basic instinctual behaviors causes tremendous suffering. Even animals caged since birth feel the need to move around, groom themselves, stretch their limbs or wings, and exercise. Herd animals and flock animals become distressed when they are made to live in isolation or when they are put in groups too large for them to be able to recognize other members. In addition, all confined animals suffer from intense boredom --some so severely that it can lead to self-mutilation or other self-destructive behavior.

"If animal exploitation were wrong, it would be illegal."

Legality is no guarantee of morality. Who does and doesnít have legal rights is determined merely by the opinion of todayís legislators. The law changes as public opinion or political motivations change, but ethics are not so arbitrary. Look at some of the other things that have at one time been legal in the U.S. -- child labor, human slavery, the oppression of women.

"Have you ever been to a slaughterhouse/vivisection laboratory?"

No, but enough people have filmed inside and written about what goes on in these places to tell the story. You do not need to experience the abuse of animals close up to be able to criticize it any more than you need to personally experience rape or child abuse to criticize those. No one will ever be witness to all the suffering in the world, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to stop it.

"Animals are not as intelligent or advanced as humans."

If possessing superior intelligence does not entitle one human to abuse another human for his or her purposes, why should it entitle humans to abuse nonhumans?

There are animals who are unquestionably more intelligent, creative, aware, communicative, and able to use language than some humans, as in the case of a chimpanzee compared to a human infant or a severely mentally handicapped person. Should the more intelligent animals have rights and the less intelligent humans be denied rights?

"Conditions on factory farms or fur farms are no worse than in the wild, where animals die of starvation, disease, or predation. At least the animals on factory farms are fed and protected."

This argument was used to claim that black people were better off as slaves on plantations than as free men and women. The same could also be said of people in prison, yet prison is considered one of society's harshest punishments.

Animals on factory farms suffer so much that it is inconceivable that they could be worse off in the wild. The wild isnít "wild" to the animals who live there; itís their home. There they have their freedom and can engage in their natural activities. The fact that they might suffer in the wild is no reason to ensure that they suffer in captivity.

Source: [email protected],
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Go on to Safety Alerts
Return to 27 October 1999 Issue
Return to Newsletters

** Fair Use Notice**
This document may contain copyrighted material, use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owners. I believe that this not-for-profit, educational use on the Web constitutes a fair use of the copyrighted material (as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law). If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Home Page




Your comments and inquiries are welcome

This site is hosted and maintained by:
The Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Family Foundation
Thank you for visiting

Since date.gif (991 bytes)