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.[5]Animal rights is the idea in which some, or all, non-human animals are entitled to the possession of their own lives 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.[2]

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.[3] They maintain that animals should no longer be viewed as property or used as food, clothing, research subjects, entertainment, or beasts of burden.[4] Multiple cultural traditions around the world—such as AnimismTaoismHinduismBuddhism, and Jainism—also espouse some forms of animal rights.

Critics of animal rights argue that 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.[6] A parallel argument, known as the utilitarian position, 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 insofar as they have interests, those interests may be overridden, though what counts as necessary suffering or a legitimate sacrifice of interests varies considerably.[7]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,[8] as well as prompted reaction from the U.S. Congress with the enactment of the “Animal Enterprise Protection Act” (amended in 2006 by the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act).[9]