Do Animals Have Rights?

Do animals have rights? Rights are exercised and enjoyed by the members of the society. They are also enjoined upon to fulfill their social duties or responsibilities also. But animals have no such responsibilities. ...

Do animals have rights? Rights are exercised and enjoyed by the members of the society. They are also enjoined upon to fulfill their social duties or responsibilities also. But animals have no such responsibilities. Animal rights are also referred to as animal liberation today. The basic argument of those who espouse the cause of animal rights is that the most basic interests of non-human animals should be given the same consideration as the similar interests of human beings. There are different views to the issue. However, the general opinion is that animals should be viewed as non-human persons. The general view is that animals should be considered as the members of the moral community. The proponents of this view hold that animals should not be used as food and they should not be used for clothing, research subjects, or entertainment, etc. They argue that animals should be treated kindly and should not be viewed as mere chattels.

Animal Law Has Become Part of the Academics

The issue of animal rights has been a hot topic across the world among thinkers and social workers. Legal scholars such as Alan Dershowitz and Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School have been vehemently advocating the cause of animal rights. Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby and others argued in 2008 that the animal rights movement had reached a very positive phase of evolution. They say that the gay rights movement was at the same phase about 5 years ago. There is positive indication of the general acceptance of animal rights among academicians. Now animal law is included in the syllabus of 119 out of 180 law schools in the United States. Animal law is taught in eight law schools in Canada. The concept of animal rights is routinely covered in the syllabuses of philosophy and applied ethics courses in many universities around the world.

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Critics of Animal Rights

However, there are many who have adverse arguments for the proposition of animal rights. Philosopher Roger Scruton and others argue that only humans have duties and hence only humans have rights. They also argue that animals are unable to enter into a social contract. Animals cannot make moral choices. Hence they think that animals do not possess any rights. Some others believe that there is nothing fundamentally wrong in using animals as resources so long there is no unnecessary suffering. There is even animal rights activism which has led to the destruction of fur farms and animal laboratories by the Animal Liberation Front. This sort of animal activism has been denounced by most of the followers of the animal rights movement.

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January 2008: Animal Rights Proposed in Law Suit

Matthew Hiasl is a chimpanzee in Austria. As a baby, Matthew was captured in Sierra Leone in 1982. He was smuggled for pharmaceutical experiments, but was caught by the customs on arrival and was sent to a shelter. The animal was kept at the shelter for 25 years. However, in the meantime, the group that ran the shelter went bankrupt in 2007. Donations from many persons came for Matthew’s keep. But under the Austrian law only a person can receive gifts and hence the donations would go to the group’s bankruptcy. In January 2008, the Austrian Supreme Court ruled that Matthew is not a person and hence cannot receive donations. The Association Against Animal Factories appealed the ruling to the European Court of Human Rights. Eberhart Theuer, the lawyer who argued for the personhood for the chimpanzee sought to appoint a legal guardian for Matthew. He also sought to grant the animal four rights, viz., the right to life, limited freedom of movement, personal safety, and the right to claim property. This is considered an important milestone in the march towards recognizing animal rights.

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June 2008: Limited Animal Rights Resolution Passed in Spain

In a significant move, on June 25, 2008, Spain’s legislative committee voted for a resolution to extend limited rights to non-human primates. As per the recommendation of the Environment Committee, bonobos, gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans were conferred the right not to be used in circuses and medical experiments. Further, the recommendation made it illegal to kill apes, except in self-defense. This is a historic decision and a landmark in the animal rights movement. , based upon Peter Singer's Great Ape Project (GAP). In the words of Pedro Pozas of Great Ape Project it is "a historic day in the struggle for animal rights ... which will doubtless go down in the history of humanity."

January 2010: Recommendations for Dolphin

As yet another milestone in the march towards animal rights, in January 2010, an organization of scientists working for animal rights, recommended that dolphins should be accepted as ‘non-human persons”. They are of the view that dolphins are second in intelligence only to human beings. Hence they argue that dolphins should be considered as non-human persons.



• Chapouthier, Georges and Nouët, Jean-Claude (eds), The universal declaration of animal rights, comments and intentions, Publisher: Ligue Française des Droits de l’Animal, Paris,1998.

• Clark, Stephen R.L. The Nature of the Beast. Oxford University Press 1982; pbk 1984.

• Bekoff, Marc. Common Sense, Cognitive Ethology and Evolution.

• Best, Steven. Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, Lantern Books, 2004. ISBN 1-59056-054-X

• Anstötz, Christopher. Profoundly Intellectually Disabled Humans

• Auxter, Thomas. The Right Not to Be Eaten


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