"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 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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"If animal exploitation were wrong, it would be
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
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
"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
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Go on to Safety
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