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Vasu Murti

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Politics and Passions - Winter 1995-96

Part 7
Just Like Us?

In the August 1988 issue of Harper's, in an article on animal rights entitled "Just Like Us?", law professor Gary Francione explained why he has devoted his life to animal rights:

"I believe that animals have rights. This is not to say that animals have the same rights we do, but the reasons that lead us to accord certain rights to human beings are equally applicable to animals. The problem is that our value system doesn't permit the breadth of vision necessary to understand that.

"We currently use the category of ‘species’ as the relevant criterion for determining membership in our moral community, just as we once used race and sex to determine that membership.

"If you had asked white men in 1810 whether blacks had rights, most of them would have laughed at you. What was necessary then is necessary now. We must change the way we think: a paradigm shift in the way we think about animals. Rights for blacks and women were the constitutional issues of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Animal rights, once more people understand the issue, will emerge as the civil rights movement of the twenty-first century.

"The problem," concluded Francione, "is that we can use animals in any way we like because they are property. The law currently regards animals as no different from that pad of paper in front of you...if you own that pad, you can rip it up or burn it. By analogy, we treat animals no differently than glasses, cups, or paper."

Ingrid Newkirk, Executive Director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), similarly observed:

"…having a car is not a fundamental right, whereas the right not to be abused is. For example, children have a right not to be used in factories. That right had to be fought for in exactly the same way we are fighting for animal rights now."

Go on to: Part 8: Veggie Kids
Return to: The Next Distraction

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