Do animals have rights? What is the meaning of animal rights? How can human beings uphold animal rights in the same way that they uphold human rights? These are just some of the questions arising from the controversy regarding animal rights.
It must be pointed out that humans are dependent on animals for their survival. It is therefore important that human beings value animals and respect their rights. Animals must be valued as an important part of human existence. Therefore, humans must protect the rights of animals to live and sustain their kind. Humans must not hunt, experiment and consume animals.
It must be made clear that humans cannot disregard the value of animals even if animals do not posses the same capabilities as a talking and intelligent person. Animals may not have the capability to create societies and solve complex problems, but just the same, they have value. According to one commentary:
Any person of common sense will agree that these animals bring the mystery of consciousness to the world. These animals, that is, not only are in the world, they are aware of it – and also of their inner world. They see, hear, touch and feel; but they also desire, believe remember and anticipate (Regan 622).
Animals play a crucial role in the survival of the human species. There is a profound sense of happiness when man interacts with animals. Those who have pets can attest to what Tom Regan said regarding the impact of animals on human lives. They may not have the ability to speak but they see, hear, touch, feel and most importantly they remember (Regan 622).
Their instincts simply prove that they act on the basis of pure intentions and not from premeditation. It is therefore immoral to hunt them down, consume their flesh and subject them to torture as in the manner employed in animal testing facilities.
Consider for instance the impact of pets. They bring great joy to their owners. Consider the impact of birds to the natural environment. Birds maintain ecological balance because they are instrumental in the propagation of fruit-bearing trees.
Birds eat the fruits and through their excrement, the seeds are scattered far and wide. This world will become an ugly place to live in without butterflies, zebras in the wild, and other exotic animals that lend color and life to virgin forests and national parks.
Before going any further it is important to clarify the meaning of animal rights and the implications if the whole world agrees with this idea. An unbiased look at animal rights means that animals must be accorded the same rights as people. In other words animals must be treated as if they are human beings. Thus, the following interpretation of the concept of animal rights cannot be considered as an exaggeration:
It means no hunting, fishing, or trapping, No livestock farming or ranching. No use of animals in science or education; no animal bone marrow to treat blood disorders, or animal blood to treat Rh factor types. No beef, pork, lamb, chicken, fish, eggs, or even honey. No leather shoes, fur collars, wool sweaters, down jackets or comforters or even silk (Marquardt & Levine 4).
Animal rights advocates will have a hard time explaining the merits of animal rights if they use a selective approach when it comes to the things that can and cannot be accomplished using animal parts and animal products. If animals are treated like human beings then they have to be free.
No one must be allowed to curtail their freedom and exploit any part of their bodies without consent. In other words the laws of the land must protect the welfare of animals.
A More Practical Approach
As a consequence it would be illegal to hunt and trap animals. It would be illegal to shear sheep and harvest their hairs to produce warm clothes. At the same time there are millions of people who will become undernourished because of the lack of access to nutritious food. It must be made clear that beyond the borders of industrialized countries, most of the farmers in poor nations are dependent on beasts of burden.
They needed animals to help them do the work of the farm. There are places like the North Pole, Alaska and other places that are under extreme weather conditions. In these regions it is more practical to hunt animals for food rather than grow vegetables and fruit trees in a hostile environment.
If the principles of animal rights are followed to the letter, then, it is illegal and immoral to find cures using animals as research subjects. It has to be pointed out that kidney transplant was perfected through animal testing so that in the 21st century “these transplants have a success rate of 95 percent” (Owen 56).
Without the existence of animal testing centers, kidney transplants would have only existed in the imaginations of physicians because there is no way to determine if the procedure can be carried out safely.
Animal rights must be observed but at the same time it has to be made clear that humans are more important than animals. There is no use arguing that animals are valuable if priorities are misguided. Human beings must come first before animals. The moment that this premise is accepted then it is easier to consider a compromise between hardliners that insist on a total vegetarian diet and zero tolerance on farming animal products.
But the consequences can be terrible if a legalistic approach is used to impose strict observance on animal rights. Many people will suffer from hunger and malnutrition. There are many tribes that rely on animal meat for their nutrient requirements because they do not have the means to maintain a vegetarian diet.
There is also the need to consider the desire of the majority because the failure to do so will result in the tyranny of the few. Consider for instance the fact that the “majority of people want to have meat and other animal products easily available, providing a wide variety of choices, and want them to be inexpensive” (Sherry 39).
There is the need to modify the hard-line stance of animal rights activists. A practical approach is to develop a more humane way of treating animals. Humans must not torture animals and they must develop a quick way to end their lives if there is a need to harvest their meat and hide. There must be a total ban on hunting if it is done for vanity purposes only.
Human beings must respect animal rights. But a hard line stance calling for the strict observance of animal rights has been found to be impractical. In addition, it is wrong to enforce a particular set of beliefs that can negatively affect the health and livelihood of the majority.
A more practical approach is to develop a more humane way of treating animals. Animals must not be made to suffer and humans must learn to take only what they need.
Marquardt, Kathleen and Herbert Levine. AnimalScam: The Beastly Abuse of Human Rights. Washington, D.C.: Regenery Gateway, Inc., 1993. Print.
Owen, Marna. Animal Rights: Noble Cause or Needless Effort? MN: Lerner Publishing Group, 2010. Print.
Regan, Tom. “Religion and Animal Rights.” Reading Literature and Writing Argument. Ed. Missy James and Alan Merickel. New York: Pearson Education, 2010. 619-629. Print.
Sherry, Clifford. Animal Rights: A Reference Handbook. CA: ABC-CLIO, 2009. Print.