Animal Rights (West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
Protection of animals from cruelty through requirements of humane treatment. Laws protecting animal rights proscribe certain forms of brutal and merciless treatment of animals in medical and scientific research and in the handling of and slaughter of animals for human consumption.
By the end of the 1980s, membership in animal advocacy organizations had reached 10 million people in the United States and opposition to the use of animals in laboratory experiments was rapidly growing. By 1990, some 76 medical schools claimed that demonstrations and break-ins by animal rights advocates had cost them more than $4.5 million, according to a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges.
As the conflict between animal rights activists and medical and scientific researchers has grown, federal and state regulation of activities involving animal research has also expanded. At the federal level, the Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C.A. § 2131 et seq. ) regulates the treatment of animals used in federally funded research. Under amendments added to the act in 1985, the secretary of agriculture was required to promulgate standards to govern the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of animals by dealers, research facilities, and exhibitors. These standards were to include minimum requirements for housing, feeding, watering, sanitation, ventilation, shelter from...
(The entire section is 4188 words.)
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Animal Rights (Encyclopedia of Science and Religion)
The modern animal rights movement, which originated in the 1970s, may be understood as a reaction to dominant emphases within science and religion (principally, though not exclusively, Christianity). When the Jesuit Joseph Rickaby wrote in 1888 that "Brute beasts, not having understanding and therefore not being persons, cannot have any rights" and that we have "no duties of charity or duties of any kind to the lower animals as neither to stocks and stones" (Moral Philosophy, vol. II, pp. 248), he was only articulating, albeit in an extreme form, the moral insensitivity that has characterized the Western view of animals.
That insensitivity is the result of an amalgam of influences. The first, and for many years the most dominant, was the "other worldly" or "world denying" tendency in Christianity, which has, at its worst, denigrated the value of earthly things in comparison with things spiritual. Traditional Catholicism has divided the world into those beings that possess reason and therefore immortal souls, and those that do not. The result of this schema has inevitably been disadvantageous to animals who have been regarded as bereft of an interior spiritual life, as well as the benefits of immortality. Christian spirituality has not consciously been at home with the world of non-human creaturesither animal or vegetable. Classic accounts of eternal life as found in Augustine of Hippo (35430), Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225274), or John Calvin (1509564) make little or no reference to the world of animals. Animals, it seems, are merely transient or peripheral beings in an otherwise wholly human-centric economy of salvation.
The second ideaommon to Christianity, Judaism, and Islams that animals, along with vegetables and minerals, exist instrumentally in relation to human beings; they are made for human beings, even belong to human beings, as resources in creation. This idea predates Christianity and is found notably in Aristotle (38422 B.C.E.), who argues that "since nature makes nothing to no purpose, it must be that nature has made them [animals and plants] for the sake of man" (The Politics, 1, viii). This idea, largely unsupported by scripture, was nevertheless taken over by Aquinas, who conceived of creation as a rational hierarchy in which the intellectually inferior existed for the sake of the intellectually superior. Hence Aquinas posits that "It is not wrong for man to make use of them [animals] either by killing or in any other way whatever" (Summa contra Gentiles, Third Book, Part II, cvii).
Such instrumentalism, which features rationality as the key factor dividing human beings from "brute beasts," has in turn buttressed the third influence, namely the notion of human superiority in creation. Human superiority need not, by itself, have led to the neglect of animal life, but when combined with the biblical ideas of being made "in the image of God" (Gen. 1: 267) and God's preferential choice to become incarnate in human form, some sense of moral as well as theological ascendancy was indicated. As a result, Christianity, and to a lesser extent Judaism, have been characterized historically by an overwhelming concern for humanity in creation rather than an egalitarian concern for all forms of God-given life. That humans are more important than animals, and that they self-evidently merit moral solicitude in a way that animals cannot, has become religious doctrine. Thus the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) maintains that "it is . . . unworthy to spend money on them [animals] that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery" (para. 2418).
These influences have in turn enabled and justified the scientific exploration of the natural world and specifically the subjection of animals to experimentation. Francis Bacon (1561626) pursued his scientific investigations in the belief that humanity should "recover that right over nature which belongs to it by divine bequest" (Thoughts and Conclusions on the Interpretation of Nature, IV, p. 294). Since animals were made for human use and are incapable of rationality or the possession of an immortal soul, it was only a short philosophical step to conceive of them as automata devoid of self-consciousness, even incapable of pain. René Descartes (1596650) famously likened the movements of a swallow to the workings of a clock, and maintained that "There is no prejudice to which we are more accustomed from our earliest years than the belief that dumb animals think" (Philosophical Letters, 1649.). Physiologist Claude Bernard (1813878) completed the scientific objectification of animals by pursuing ruthless vivisections of living animals, and inaugurating an era in which experimental science, following theology, became largely blind to the sufferings of non-human creatures.
Yet, if science and religion have provided the dominant influences against which animal rights advocates react, they have also variously provided some key justifications for a contemporary animal rights position. Although Charles Darwin (1809882) cannot be counted an animal rights advocate (since he shot birds for sport and was not wholly opposed to vivisection), his theory of evolution challenged prevailing religious notions of a difference in kind between humans and animals. In so doing, he laid the foundation for a less hierarchical view of creation and encouraged subsequent discoveries of similarities between species. The irony is that a century of (often abusive) experimental work on animals has demonstrated the range and complexity of their behavior.
It is increasingly difficult to deny self-consciousness, mental states, and emotional complexity to other mammals. Indeed, there is a consensus now among scientists that animals suffer fear, anxiety, trauma, shock, terror, stress, and suffer only to a greater or lesser degree than humans do. Although the case for animal rights does not depend upon any exact similarity between "them" and "us" (except the need for sentiency, defined as the capacity to experience suffering), the question has to be asked: Given what we know now of the similar biological capacities of humans and animals, how can we justify a total difference in our moral treatment of them?
Similarly, religious traditions, especially Christianity, have rekindled more generous insights about animals. Chief among these are the notions that animals too are created by God and have intrinsic value and that human "dominion" over animals means exercising a God-given responsibility of care, and, not least of all, an appreciation that there are moral limits to what humans may do to other creatures. Such a notion of moral limits is explicit in the Hebrew Bible and has formed the basis of the traditional rabbinic injunction not to cause animals unnecessary suffering. Although it came rather late in the day, the humanitarian movement of the nineteenth century in England and the United States focussed religious sensibilities on the suffering of innocents (children as well as animals). Both Christians and Jews, including Arthur Broome and Lewis Gompertz, were involved in the foundation in London in 1824 of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the world's first national animal welfare organization. Some modern theologians have argued that there is a specifically theological basis for animal rights based on God's prior right as creator to have what is created treated with respect.
Although people in Eastern countries, dominated by the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, have in practice treated animals with as little respect as people in Western countries, their religions have nevertheless retained notions of respect and nonviolence (ahimsa) toward animal, as well as human, life. In the doctrine of samsara (reincarnation) a continuity of soulfulness is presupposed (however much it may presuppose a moral hierarchy of life itself), and in Buddhism the first precept against killing is still normative. Specifically, the bodhisattva's example of compassionate postponement of buddhahood in order to liberate other suffering beings is a powerful religious ideal expressing the regard that the strong ought to have for the weak.
This ideal also expresses the best in traditional Jewish and Christian theology as summed up in the line that the "good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" ( John 10: 11). Our very God-given power over animals should inspire a view of ourselves not as the "master species but rather as the servant species" (Linzey 1994, p. 45). The irony for animal rights advocates is that traditions that have supported and justified animal abuse also contain within themselves the seeds of an enlightened, even generous, attitude toward the non-human.
See also ARISTOTLE; AUGUSTINE; BUDDHISM; CHRISTIANITY, ROMAN CATHOLIC, ISSUES IN SCIENCE AND RELIGION; DARWIN, CHARLES; DESCARTES, REN/span>; HINDUISM; IMAGO DEI; JUDAISM; PRIMATOLOGY; SOUL; THOMAS AQUINAS
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