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Animal rights

Animal rights is the idea in which some, or all, non-human animals are entitled to the possession of their own existence and that their most basic interests—such as the need to avoid suffering—should be afforded the same consideration as similar interests of human beings.

Its advocates oppose the assignment of moral value and fundamental protections on the basis of species membership alone—an idea known since 1970 as speciesism, when the term was coined by Richard D. Ryder—arguing that it is a prejudice as irrational as any other. They maintain that animals should no longer be viewed as property or used as food, clothing, research subjects, entertainment, or beasts of burden. Multiple cultural traditions around the world such as Jainism, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Animism also espouse some forms of animal rights.

In parallel to the debate about moral rights, animal law is now widely taught in law schools in North America, and several prominent legal scholars[who?] support the extension of basic legal rights and personhood to at least some animals. The animals most often considered in arguments for personhood are bonobos and chimpanzees. This is supported by some animal rights academics because it would break through the species barrier, but opposed by others because it predicates moral value on mental complexity, rather than on sentience alone.

Critics of animal rights argue that nonhuman animals are unable to enter into a social contract, and thus cannot be possessors of rights, a view summed up by the philosopher Roger Scruton, who writes that only humans have duties, and therefore only humans have rights. Another argument, associated with the utilitarian tradition, is that animals may be used as resources so long as there is no unnecessary suffering; they may have some moral standing, but they are inferior in status to human beings, and any interests they have may be overridden, though what counts as "necessary" suffering or a legitimate sacrifice of interests varies considerably. Certain forms of animal rights activism, such as the destruction of fur farms and animal laboratories by the Animal Liberation Front, have also attracted criticism, including from within the animal rights movement itself, as well as prompted reaction from the U.S. Congress with the enactment of laws allowing these activities to be prosecuted as terrorism, including the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

Selected article

The original statue of the Brown Dog, erected in 1906, presumed destroyed in 1910.

The Brown Dog affair was a political controversy about vivisection that raged in Edwardian England from 1903 until 1910. It was triggered by claims that, in February 1903, physiologist William Bayliss of University College London dissected a brown terrier dog without adequate anaesthesia before an audience of 60 medical students. The procedure was condemned as unlawful by the National Anti-Vivisection Society. Bayliss, arguing that the dog had been anaesthetized and unconscious, sued for libel and won.

Anti-vivisectionists commissioned a statue of the dog as a memorial, but medical students were angered by its provocative plaque – "Men and women of England, how long shall these Things be?" – leading to frequent vandalism of the memorial, the need for a 24-hour police guard, and eventually rioting in central London, when suffragettes, trade unionists and the police clashed with hundreds of medical students. Read more...

Selected image

Miss Sam, a Rhesus monkey, being placed in a container for the Little Joe 1B test flight in January 1960

Selected biography

Gary Francione with Mollie and Katie

Gary Lawrence Francione (born 1954) is the Distinguished Professor of Law and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Scholar of Law & Philosophy at Rutgers School of Law-Newark. He is known for his work on animal rights theory, and was the first academic to teach it in an American law school. His work has focused on three issues: the property status of animals, the differences between animal rights and animal welfare, and a theory of animal rights based on sentience alone, rather than on any particular characteristics.

Francione is a pioneer of the abolitionist theory of animal rights, arguing that improving welfare is theoretically and practically unsound, serving only to prolong the status of animals as property by making the public feel comfortable about using them. He argues that non-human animals require only one right, the right not to be regarded as property, and that the moral baseline of the abolitionist approach is veganism, the rejection of the use of all animal products. Read more...

Did you know?

DYK Question Mark
  • ... that Lizzy Lind af Hageby, a Swedish anti-vivisectionist, broke a record in England in 1913 when she spoke 210,000 words during a libel trial and asked 20,000 questions?
  • ... that in January 2010 a team of scientists suggested that dolphins are second in intelligence only to human beings, and should be regarded as non-human persons?
  • ... that in 2011 People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (unsuccessfully) sued SeaWorld over its captivity of whales, the first time an attempt was made to use the United States Thirteenth Amendment to protect non-human rights?

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