Which concept of animal rights is the best?
Is it respect, freedom, intrinsic value, love, compassion, equality or something else? What should be the basis for animal rights?
It is in the nature of animals to assert
themselves in the animal world but this
in itself has nothing to do with having
rights. At a certain point in time man conceived
the notion of 'rights' and it is man alone
that employs such a concept.
People and animals relate to each other in different ways:
The ways in which we relate to animals and the rights we grant them has to do with ethics. Albert Schweitzer stated that ethics should be rooted in compassion. A right without compassion cannot be implemented as a justifiable action. How these issues interconnect will be elaborated in this article.
The concept of animal rights can be interpreted in widely different ways. On the one hand, some may exercise the right to kill animals for the purpose of consumption or sports. Some people, on the other hand, will deprive themselves of the right to kill even the smallest animal by mistake.
What is the basis for granting rights to animals?
Animals are only capable of expressing
themselves indirectly in case of abuse.
Therefore it is up to us to answer the question
We will now test the workability of each concept according to a number of important principles:
Some concepts are unsuitable as a legal basis for animal rights
On the basis of the first mentioned principle we should exclude the concepts of intrinsic value and respect. Though these concepts are widely used, it is impossible to formulate unequivocal animal rights on the strength of either concept. It is perfectly acceptable to mention intrinsic value and respect when talking about behavior towards animals but the concepts cannot be used to judge human behavior from a judicial point of view. "Madam, we intend to summon you to appear in court for treating your lap dog without respect". Of course it is always possible to distance yourself from objectionable behavior and to label it as disrespectful behavior. An example is when circus bears and lions are forced to do tricks unworthy of an animal, you may say that this is treating animals in a disrespectful way.
Likewise you cannot enforce civilized behavior
or good taste but you can comment on these
Animal rights have the same basis for all animals but different implications
If we take the second basic principle the implication may be that each species has to be dealt with separately. Animals include earthworms as well as elephants, fish but also insects. We have to come up with a general formulation for animal rights including certain preconditions that apply to all categories of animals.
A number of preconditions may include:
Animals should primarily be given the
legal right to demonstrate their natural
behavior (dependent on their natural
disposition) even if they are found to be
harmful and their movements have to be restricted.
Other concepts and summary
When issues are at stake such as animal welfare, their intelligence, feelings and instincts, it must be concluded that it is virtually impossible to formulate clear guidelines to judge by. Questions arise like "do fish have feelings?" or "does a pig or pet get bored?" It would be impossible to give accurate answers to these questions and for this reason they cannot be included as basic concepts for animal rights. On the other hand, it would be acceptable to include these concepts in working out animal rights in actual practice or when trying to prevent violation of animal interests.
Maltreatment of animals is punishable by law as laid down in e.g. the Dutch Welfare Act but does not include penalizing passive maltreatment of animals by e.g. extreme curtailment of an animal's freedom of movement. Disregarding an animal's well being is related to animal rights but animals also have fundamental rights in case of an obscure relation between human behavior and the animal's well being. Our view on this point deviates from that of Jeremy Bentham who believed that the key question is "is an animal capable of suffering"? If so, animals have the right to be considered equal to humans in this respect but it does not grant the animal rights.
Concepts and their relation with well being and animal rights (summary)
The concepts that we have discussed are summarized in the outline below. The squares portray how the various issues should be seen in relation to each other. The starting point of the outline is that animals have rights and that the purpose of granting rights should safeguarding the conditions for their well-being. An example of how to read the outline: emotions have to with well being but have nothing to do with rights.
The remarkable thing is that the concepts that are unrelated to well being should be precisely the aspects in which animals strongly differ from humans and that the issues that are related to well being apply equally to both animals and humans. In principle there is no difference between man and animal when it concerns important aspects of well being and this fact should be given expression by acknowledging the right of freedom for both animal and man.
See also Paola Cavalieri (The Animal Question: Why Non-Human Animals Deserve Human Rights, see book-reference below) and our ethical barometer.
Is it possible to conceive a satisfactory judicial basic principle that can be adequately employed?
A workable option is to apply the same principle for human rights as for animals rights, which is the right of freedom.
The Farm Animal Welfare Council, for example, has determined that animals in cattle farming have a right to "5 forms of "freedom" (freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour).
Freedom is a paradoxical concept: freedom
defined is freedom denied. Clear boundaries
are to be formulated as to its beginning
and its end; otherwise the concept is unworkable.
In order to employ the concept of freedom
in actual practice, the best thing is to
describe all situations that frustrate an
animal's ability to be free.
An important advantage of freedom is that it entails a limit to the obligation
to be concerned with animal rights. By safeguarding
these rights, the animal can be left to
interpret freedom in its own way and be
free to exercise behavior that is in accordance
with its innate nature. How an animal exercises
its freedom in terms of behavior has no
bearings on the basic principle of animal
that can be set with respect to animals without infringing their fundamental right of freedom are:
Animal studies should focus on defining the boundaries for each animal species. When considering animals we should start from the principle of freedom, enabling us to be more adequate in treating animals with respect.
A significant asset of the concept of freedom is that it can also be utilized by people who in principle disagree with the ultimate consequences. A person may for example take the view that keeping pets deprives animals of their freedom. It would still be an option for him to discuss the matter with a pet lover in order to define the right circumstances for keeping pets. Reaching a compromise enhances the workability of the concept.
Another significant asset of the concept is its immediate controllability. If we lay down the circumstances in which an animal's freedom is being obstructed, it will cost little time to conclude whether the freedom of an animal is being encroached upon. In contrast, the status of all other concepts can only be established after a prolonged period of observation.
If some people tend to violate the basic rights of animals, is freedom still employable as a fundamental right?
There are two levels of interpretation.
Keeping animal pets and to a certain
extent using and then slaughtering of agricultural
animals seem incompatible with the rights
of animals as formulated above. Animals
for slaughtering should also be entitled
to behaving naturally during their limited
lifetime. These animals including fish
have the right to be killed as fast as painless
as possible. If a person intends to curtail
an animal's freedom, the requirement could
be set that this person should warrant a
certain degree of the animal's natural behavior.
Suchlike interpretation enhances broad social
acceptance as it also conveys a clear message
to the public.
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