Susan E. Wilson-Sanders, D.V.M., M.S.
VSC/443/543 - Fall 2010
Lecture for September 22, 2010

“Animal Rights”. These two words bring varied visions to members of the human race. To some, it is the sounding cry from the heart, born of deep rooted love for all creatures of this earth. To some, it is a call to arms to raise protest against what they consider wrongs by society against the helpless. To some, the words provide excuse to perpetrate crime. To some, the picture is of people who have nothing better to do than to try to stop a sport that others enjoy. To some, the words invoke fear of loss of property, bodily injury, or even loss of life. To some, there is concern for the future of man and animal kind–if we loose the ability to perform medical and veterinary research. To many others, the words simply invoke memories of people they don’t understand, who carry banners with disturbing pictures and slogans berating research, eating meat, or opposing circuses or rodeos.

ANIMAL RIGHTS  - What pictures to these words invoke for you?

For over a hundred years, philosophers, scientists, politicians, students, teachers, and Mr. and Mrs. John D. Public have discussed and debated Animal Rights. Do animal’s have rights, how do they obtain rights, are they born with rights, do we give them rights? What is an animal’s legal standing? What is the difference–should there be a difference--between man and animals? Is there moral relevance that requires man to grant animal’s rights, to provide moral and/or legal standing to members–some or all–of the animal kingdom? Bioethicists abound to provide philosophical treatises on the case for or against animal rights. Universities and colleges are in bidding wars to obtain faculty with expertise in bioethics and animal rights. Lawyers are finding animal issues, especially animal standing, a lucrative specialty. Even physicians and veterinarians are joining the support of animal rights.


The term Animal Welfare is often substituted for Animal Rights, and while most of those in the animal using communities adamantly adhere to welfare of animals, they oppose the ideology of rights of animals. Where did the ideology begin–and what is the basis for the belief system of animal rights? Its roots are found throughout history–from Biblical teachings, to early philosophers such as Aristotle and Descartes–to modern day ethicists such as Singer, Regan, and de Gracia. The varied philosophical theories on the morality of man’s dealing with animals are summarized in Table 1.


Religious belief and heritage are important in shaping a person’s views on the relationship between man and animals. In western civilization, the Judeo-Christian teaching of dominion and stewardship has permeated society bringing a view that mankind is given the right to use animals for the good of man. Tempered with such right, is the responsibility to provide animals with humane care and treatment. The concept of animal welfare has its roots in this belief system.

Table 1.  Moral Status Theories




Absolute Dominion Absolute right of man to do with animals as sees fit Judeo-Christian-Islam: tempered by stewardship.  Descartes theory and some modern day sadists would hold absolute power, unmitigated
Non-malevolence No mean motive, but use as wish with animals
Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism
Anthropocentric We reduce ourselves as we do harm to animals Kant
Humane Beneficence
Man is to be kind, not cruel Confucianism
Reverence for life Think about what you do before you do it. Be humane in your use Most of humanity approaches animals in this manner
Permissive utilitarianism Cost vs Benefit, with weight on benefit Popular with scientific community
Restrictive Utilitarianism Suffering out weights benefits Bentham, Singer
Rights Absolute right not to be used Regan


The modern day animal rights movement has also tried to use Biblical perspective to support their view point. For example, Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), expressed her vision of a day where " the lion will lie down with the lamb, where man will live in harmony with nature, where when two animals fight, human beings will intervene" (1) A return to an Edenic environment has also been expressed by veterinarian-activist Michael Fox. Tom Regan, animal ethics philosopher, produced a video called Noah’s Ark that attempts to connect animal rights and the Bible in order to draw members of the Jewish and Christian faiths into the animal rights movement.(2) In fact, one animal rights organization has published a handbook for how activists can win church members over to their cause. (2). Most conservative religious leaders and members oppose this attempt to reorder Biblical teaching. By claiming animals have rights, personhood, and standing, activists seek to place animals along side of man, rather than beneath man in the scheme of Creation. They attempt to give animals value because of their being “made” by God, rather than because they were given by God to man for his use (dominion and stewardship) (2).

Eastern religions bring a variety of perspectives to the animal-human relationship perspective. Three main models exist from these cultures: Shamanism, Confucianism, and Hindu/Jainism/ Buddhism. Shamanism has its roots in medieval Asia. In this tradition, animals played a central role as totems and spiritual guides. Eating of meat was prohibited. Animal’s were imitated in ceremonial rituals, which were the forerunners of yoga (3). In ancient China, while animals were highly revered, an injured animal could be slaughtered and its tissues used for healing. For example, if an injured bear was found, the bear would be killed, the bile sucked out of the gall bladder and the bile sold as medicine. In China, exotic birds were killed and sold as “power food”. This practice still continues today. The birds are slaughtered in front of the guest and immediately prepared and served by the chef (3). A similar tradition occurs with the eating of dog.

In 600 B.C. Confucianism became a predominate belief system in Korea and Japan. Some residents of the western United States, who are of these heritages, continue to practice Confucianism as their faith, which teaches that while animals are not equal to man, that our treatment of animals reflects on our own dignity and benevolence. (3)

East Indian culture and religions (Hindu, Buddhist, Jainist) hold animals as to be revered, and animals play an important role in the reincarnation theory. (3) Members of these religions place high value on all forms of life. Ancient religious leaders recognized and taught their followers that plants have the sense of touch, worms the sense of taste, ants the sense of smell, and flies strong visionary perception. Birds, they taught, could hear–and believed to think in their hearts. (3) Animal and human life have similar importance, and for many who practice these teachings eating animal flesh, using animals for research, or causing any other kind of injury to an animal is abhorrent. (4) Monks and nuns from these religions are devout vegetarians and practice non-harm to all creatures. Most sweep the ground before they walk on it to prevent stepping on unseen creatures. Some practice nudity, as insects and other creatures could get caught in their clothes and die! (3) As a vivid example of how these teachings are put into practice, a member of the peace corp told the following story: A small native village in an eastern country was suffering a high mortality rate from sleeping sickness, and a group of peace corp workers had been sent in to spray the swamps to kill the mosquitoes. Before beginning the spraying, the leader of the village, a holy man, had to give permission. He refused, stating that he could not justify the killing of billions of insects for the few hundred human inhabitants of the region. His people would live with the threat of death rather than violate the principal of no-harm.

In modern day India, religious practice has led to special shelters for animals–even rats! (3) Vaults are kept near homes to sweep dust bunnies and dirt into so that insects and mites will not be harmed. Animal medicines are sold at road-side stands so that people can treat animals–both domesticated and wild. While Jainists are opposed to the use of animals in research, they control the pharmaceutical industry in India, so must allow animal testing to go on. They require experiments to minimize pain and have established shelters which house all retired research subjects. There is a special chaste of Indians whose entire job in life is to kill animals. They are well paid, but are treated as outcasts by their fellow countrymen. These individuals are hired to work in laboratory animal facilities. (3)


The roots of modern day ethical theories concerning the moral status of animals began in Victorian England. The most important of these is "utilitarianism", first articulated by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). According to classical (permissive) utilitarianism, in deciding if an action is morally right, the sum total of the good an action brings about must be weighed against the total amount of harm caused. (5) Several conditions must be satisfied under the utilitarianism theory: (6)
  1. The Principle of Utility: Good must be maximized. For example, in using animals for scientific research, the public benefit must be maximized and the animals used must receive the best, most humane treatment.
  2. A Standard of Goodness must be applied. The question is–whose values are to be used as the standard. Thus, under this condition, the good in the use of animals in research can be outweighed by a value that animal use is wrong.
  3. Consequentialism:. All actions are morally right or wrong according to their consequences rather than by virtue of any intrinsic moral features. Under this standard, the positive consequences to human health can be used to outweigh the negative consequences to animals used in research.
  4. Impartiality: All parties in the action must receive impartial consideration. Any bias must have a strict utilitarian justification.(6)
On the surface, this theory appears to favor justification of some use of animals by man.(5) For example, the benefits gained from research which brings about the cure of a debilitating illness would seem to far outweigh the suffering of experimental animals. Bentham, though, incorporated into his theory a moral equality between beings, stating: "Each to count for one and none for more than one." He believed that equality between man and animals should not be based on ability to reason, but on the ability to suffer.(7) This philosophy gives rise to the belief that the capacity for suffering is the vital characteristic that gives a being the right of equal consideration. Peter Singer, the Australian philosopher, considered by most activists to be the father of the rebirth of animal activism, expanded the Victorian utilitarian philosophy. In his book, Animal Liberation, Singer coined the term "speciesism", indicating that one species (humans) feels superiority over other species (animals). He believes that speciesism is as invalid as racism or sexism.(7)

The revised utilitarian philosophy, or restrictive utilitarianism, finds that if a being can suffer, there can be no moral justification for not taking that ability to suffer into consideration. This principle blurs the line between utilitarianism and out and out rights. If applying equality, then a beings suffering must be counted equal to that of any other being, hence an animal and human would have similar rights. The ability to suffer is not limited to the feeling of pain, but is extended to an animal's ability to "enjoy" life (7). From this viewpoint, any intrusion of man which would reduce an animal's enjoyment would be a direct violation of the animal's rights. Such a definition includes any agricultural use, exhibition or training, and animal experimentation. Some animal rightists even take this philosophy to the extreme, insisting that having companion animals is a moral violation of the animal's rights.

Today, most true animal rights advocates hold to these views. They wear no clothing made of animal skin, eat no meat or animal products such as cheese, eggs, or honey, and they are totally opposed to the use of animals in medical experimentation. They oppose the use animals in agriculture and exhibition. The capture of wild animals and propagation/exhibition in zoological parks, even when such activities are assisting to preserve an endangered species, is abhorrent to most activists.


A central issue in the animal rights debate has been do animals have minds, and if so, what is the animal’s level of mental activity, and what ethical significance does their mental ability play in our recognition of the animals’ moral standing relative to mankind? (6). Philosophers over the ages have differed greatly in their opinions of the mental state of animals. Descartes, the seventeenth century French philosopher, held that animals lack the capacity to feel pain, and do not have minds. He considered them automata who “act naturally and mechanically”. He viewed the lack of recognizable language and abstract reasoning to signal a “lack of mind”. Therefore, according to his philosophy, man has no responsibility towards animals and has the right to kill, eat, or experiment on animals. (6) Descartes views influenced many of the scientists of the seventeenth and eighteenth century and their approach to care and use of animals. On the other hand, many researchers, saw the obvious–animals do feel pain! But continued use of animals in experiments which caused pain and suffering were believed justified on the basis of Biblical stewardship and the advancement of human knowledge. (6)

In the mid-eighteenth century, the Scottish philosopher David Hume expressed a different approach to animals’ mental capabilities. Hume believed that animals can understand and reason. He deducted his belief as follows: understanding is to recognize something on the basis of experience and to use this experience (understanding) to make casual inferences (the ability to make the inference was reasoning.) (6) He used as examples of the combination of these abilities, an animal’s capability to experience something, such as fire as being painful, and avoiding fire in the future because of the memory associated with the experience. Hume also went beyond giving animals the ability to reason, but also felt they could feel love and pride. He recognized that animals did not have an apparent sense of virtue or vice. (6)

Kant separated animals from humans and the automata. He recognized animals were not automatic creatures, but believed they have no reasoning ability and are not moral agents. They were not, like man, made in the image of God. While humans can never be used as a means to another’s end; animals could be man’s instruments. (6). He did not believe man had any direct duties to animals, that is for the animals themselves. Indirect duties to protect or be kind to animals related specifically to human ownership of an animal and each individual’s morality. For example, you can’t kill a man’s dog, not because it causes the dog pain, but because it causes the owner emotional pain and financial loss. Also, a man who kills a dog has failed as a human being–failed himself, not the dog. (6)

In The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin revolutionized thinking on the differences between man and animals. He espoused the belief that there is ample evidence of similarities between man and the lower animals, evidence that indicates that some animals have power of deliberation and decision making, excellent memories, imagination, etc. He recognized many shared complex biological and physiological similarities, as well. He argued that despite “enormous differences in degree of “mental power”, between humans and apes, no fundamental difference exists in kind between humans and many types of animals. He recognized many gradations of “mental power” exist throughout the animal kingdom–with humans and great apes on one end and lower animals on the other. He also recognized that animals, like humans, have their own language, ability to communicate with their kind. (6)

Darwin also believed that human moral sense, or conscience, is the product of evolution. His theory was that the morality, or conscience, built into mankind is rooted in “social instincts” which are found throughout the lower animal kingdom. While he separated man from lower animals on the basis of humans having moral consciousness, he found analogs in animal behavior. He believed non-human animals can show emotions such as love and sympathy for their kin and their larger social groups. They enjoy companionship, help their fellows, risk their lives for offspring or their social group, grieve over the loss of their young, and the like. He believed that animals can act altruistically–showing exceptional bravery while endangering themselves. For modern day examples, he would certainly site reports of dogs pulling children from a swimming pool or protecting their master from a wild animal attack. Darwin also thought that animals possess “mental concepts”, including abstract or general concepts. For example, if you say “squirrel” and your dog begins looking in trees and circling, he believed the dog knows what a squirrel is and has the idea that the animal is to be discovered and hunted. Darwin used this logic to explain human reasoning as a product of evolution. Thus, under his theory, there was no need for believing in God’s giving a rational soul to mankind. (6)

Darwin’s theories have been used to provide a means of differing from the theological based separation between man and animal kind. If one believes in the evolution of mankind, then we are not the “rational creature”, but one of many. We are not set apart, but one of the group. We do not deserve a unique moral consideration. These implications of Darwin’s theories have had profound implications on how modern philosophers view the status of animals. (6) One of the key issues in modern day philosophy is whether animals have moral standing. The term “standing” has been brought into ethics from its place in law, where “standing” is defined as “one’s place in the community in the estimation of others; one’s relative position in social, commercial, or moral relations; one’s repute, grade, or rank.” (Black’s Law Dictionary). (6)

To the present, animals have been given almost no legal standing under the British and American systems of law. Recently challenges to the state have been numerous, with the term “standing” used in relation to animals in a non-legal sense. The term has been used to mean a status, grade, or rank of moral importance. (6) Some have used the term to equate to a full blown case of rights for animals. The standard for most modern day moral philosophers is to ask whether an entity is the type to which moral principles can be applied. More significant moral standing can be granted to animals by saying that an animal is relevantly like an adult human being. Some philosophers, such as Singer, have enhanced animal moral standing by attributing personhood or autonomy to certain animals. For example, in The Great Ape Project, by Cavelieri and Singer, the argument is made that great apes are persons just as humans are apes. At the minimum, most philosophers today agree that if animals have capacities for understanding, intending, and suffering, then these properties confer a degree of moral standing. (6)So where do the properties animals have place them in the spectrum of “standing”, particularly with relation to mankind? Defining the properties which make up human personhood have, in the past, always helped separate man from animals, and have assisted in justifying our use of animals for our good, even when our use is in conflict with the animal’s good. Several modern day philosophers, including Tooley, Warren, and Summer, (8-10) have set specific standards for what defines a person and non-person. If a being has these specific cognitive properties, then the individual has moral standing; if they don’t meet the standards, then no moral standing is applied. These standards are generally set as those present in adult human beings but lacking in others. The standards include (individual would not have to meet all the criteria, but would have to meet more than one): (6).

1. Self-consciousness of oneself as existing over time
2. Capacity to engage in purposive sequences of actions
3. Capacity to appreciate reasons for acting
4. Capacity to communicate with other persons using language
5. Capacity to make moral judgments
6. Rationality

It is obvious by reviewing this list, that many humans, such as fetuses, infants, the mentally retarded, infirm, or comatose, would not qualify under these standards. Nor would most animals. Others have lowered the standards and substituted intention, understanding, desire, preferences, suffering, and having a belief structure as the list of criteria. By reducing the capacity required of the individual, some animals begin to fall into the category of having moral status. (6)

Mankind persists, though, in believing that there is some intrinsic difference that grants humans a higher moral status than all other inhabitants of our earth. Can we pin-point this difference–the special properties that set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. The property most often cited is self-consciousness, that is a conception of oneself through the passing of time. Most believe that animals lack this capability. They lack the capacity to plan for the future or to account for the past. They may have goal-directed behaviors such as building a nest or returning to the same nest year after year, but they do it because these behaviors are part of their nature, not because they have a sense of self. (6)

Another approach to moral personhood, discounts the cognitive criteria and instead places two properties to the fore–ability to perceive pain and ability to feel emotion. In the 19th century, Jeremy Bentham equated the giving of rights to the ability to suffer–either physically or emotionally. Perception of pain is now equated in humans and animals, but the emotional aspect of animals has long been discounted. There are many good reasons, though, to credit many different creatures with the ability to feel and show emotion. Animals show fear, express joy in their bark and wagging tail, show shame in their cowering stance and tucked tails following harsh words from their masters. Are these emotions? Or simply natural reactions to particular stimuli? (6)

So, what is the final conclusion that can be reached regarding personhood and moral status/ standing of humans and animals? Tom Beuchamp, Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University and member of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, has articulated a reasoned approach to moral personhood which he believes is uncomplicated and non-controversial. His conditions are an individual’s ability to make moral judgements–recognizing right and wrong and being morally accountable for one’s actions. To such individuals can be assigned blame and punishment for actions. Most humans fall into this category, but some are still excluded. Animals, at present, do not fall into this category. Where does this leave then the protection of those excluded from moral personhood? According to Beuchamp, the final answer to standing and rights must be based on something more than personhood–on moral protection–for those who cannot stand up for themselves. (6)

“Conforming with or conformable to justice, law, or morality. Thing which is just, morally good, legal, proper or fitting. Something that is due to a person by law, tradition, or nature. A just legal claim or title.” The American Heritage Dictionary
The vision of Animal Rights, as mentioned earlier, conjures up in the modern mind primarily a negative picture. This is particularly true of those individuals who work in animal use careers, such as biomedical research. We have come to radically oppose the idea of animal “rights” because our vision is of protestors shouting “animal torturer”, “Nazi”, “animal research is scientific fraud” or the like at us and seeing through vivid memories the burned-out buildings with blood-red dripping paint exclaiming “ALF was here!”. Some ethicists, though, who are animal research supporters believe we are wrong in our opposition to acknowledging rights that mankind has already granted to animals.

So what really is a “right”–who or what does or does not have rights–and why? There is a difference between moral and legal rights. (11) Sometimes the two overlap, but often what is morally right is not legally right, and occasionally vice versa. For example, the moral law of the Bible (which is accepted by most in our society) indicates that parents have the right to expect respect from their children (“honor thy father and mother”). Yet, there are no laws that require children to follow this moral code, and today there are many, many young people who laugh in the face of this morality. On the other hand, the Law can enforce a right that is in direct opposition to morality. The legal right of Southern States to won slaves prior to the civil was an example of legal and moral laws not coinciding.

Rights stem from the basic interests of rights-holders. (11). The philosopher Feinberg, in his writings states: “(Rights are) extremely valuable possession, neither depended on or derivative from the compassionate feelings, propriety, conscientiousness, or sense of noblesse oblige of others. It is a claim against another party in no way dependent on the love of the other party or the loveableness of its possessor....A right is a matter of justice, and justice, while perhaps no more valuable than love, sympathy, and compassion, is nevertheless a moral notion distinct from them.” (12)Moral and legal rights presuppose that holders of rights have interests–and only beings that have interests can have rights. (11) The claim of a “right”can be made either directly by a right-holder in its own behalf, or on the behalf of a right-holder. For example, a young child may be incapable of understanding that he/she has certain rights, but a relative or the court can step in to assert rights for the child. In order to make a claim of rights for another, the other being must be capable of benefit from the right; there must be a good or “sake” of the beings own. This is a strong reason not to ascribe rights to inanimate objects. One cannot act in behalf of inanimate objects/things, because they are incapable of having interests. This does not mean that we do not have the moral responsibility to take care of inanimate objects such a buildings, statues, rocks, or rivers. (11)

Many people believe that animals have some moral rights–even though they do not use the term “rights.” For example, many people find dog or cock fighting abhorrent–even if the people who participate in these sports find it more pleasurable on the cost/benefit ratio than is the pain suffered by the animals. These sports are unacceptable because it is unfair to subject animals to such treatment. Animals count for something in their own right, and they count enough to make these violent sports a moral offence to many. The situation is analogous to a human infant or incompetent whose moral rights can be violated because they can’t object, but who have a moral claim against society that we provide protection for them. By our outrage against blood sports and our desire to protect innocent animals from this abuse, we are providing rights to the animals–the right not to be used and abused in this manner. There are numerous examples of moral rights that people believe animals should have. Most people are opposed to unnecessary pain being inflicted upon laboratory animals, reject inhumane slaughter methods, and are horrified by neglect and mistreatment of pets. By rejecting these situations for animals, mankind is not playing the utilitarian, making a calculation of cost vs benefit. These individuals are saying these abuses are immoral because of the wrong done to the animals–as serious violations of an animal’s basic interests. (11)

Are these considerations of animals’ basic interests animal rights or welfare? If the concept of animal welfare goes beyond the utilitarian approach of cost vs benefit and includes interests for the sake of the animal, then the term “right” may be the more appropriate term. (11) After all the definition of right is simply a “Thing which is just, morally good, legal, proper or fitting.” Is this not what we are claiming for some members of the animal kingdom? Are we shunning the term of “rights” because of the visions this term conjures in or minds? In refusing to use the term “rights”, we are not causing those we call “animal rights extremists” to alter their views or demands. But by our shunning the word, we may be abandoning the legitimate connotations the term implies. (11) An analogy can be made between the rights of individual humans and human welfare. For example, in our society a property owner has the right to do with his property as he/she sees fit (within the limitations of laws, such as zoning). If instead of using the word rights to describe property ownership, we substituted “welfare” in this situation, the use of one’s property may change, as human welfare usually describes the benefit of the whole not just individuals. (11) It might then be decided that the use of one’s private property could better benefit the welfare of the populous be selling the property and giving the money to the poor, rather than the individual keeping his/her property for their own use.

If we then use the term “animal rights” in comparison to “human rights”, this does not necessarily give the former identical rights to the later. Many human “moral rights” are derived from the ability of normal human adults to make deliberate decisions and life choices (11). Animals are not autonomous in the same way, but the described concept of animal rights suggests that there are categories of animal mistreatment that violate an animal’s basic interests to life. (11)

Even scientists, veterinarians, and physicians who strongly object to the common modern meaning attached to “animal rights” endorse the concept of morality towards animals. For example, many of us champion the “Humane Care and Use” of animals, while, at the same time, we seek to distance ourselves from the extremists who challenge our “right” to use animals in research. The (WVA) has adopted an animal welfare statement which includes the following:
“We do not accept the view that animals have specialized rights as an entity on their own. We believe that animals can benefit more from the point of view that man is responsible for the provision of animal welfare, rather than from the view which promotes animal rights alone.”(13)
While this statement appears to be a total rejection of animal rights, the policy has a section titled “Freedom of Animals”, in which it is stated that animals have strong moral claims against the people who use them: (11)

“It is recognized that certain provisions of care are essential to welfare in the form of five freedoms. Modified from various sources in applied ethology, these can be stated as follows:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from physical discomfort and pain
  3. Freedom from injury and disease
  4. Freedom from fear and distress
  5. Freedom to conform to essential behavior patters.” (13)
Are not these “freedoms” in essence rights? The WVA is certainly not espousing the prohibition of never allowing animals to experience the ills on the lists, as doing so would be in direct opposition to their pro-research stance. Instead, these freedoms/rights are to be interpreted to mean that animals have strong moral claims against humans who wish/need to use them, not to subject them to adverse conditions unless there is compelling justification for the use. (11)

(AVMA) has changed its view of “animal rights” over the past several decades. In 1983, the AVMA adopted an official policy recommending “that the term ‘animal rights’ not be used” and encouraged the profession to “focus its attention on the welfare and humane use of animals.” (14) In 1990, the statement was changed to:

“Animal welfare and animal rights are not synonymous terms. The AVMA wholeheartedly endorses and adopts promotion of animal welfare as official policy; however, the AVMA does not endorse the philosophical views and personal values of animal rights advocates when they are incompatible with the responsible use of animals for human purposes, such as food, fiber, companionship, recreation, and research conducted for the benefit of both humans and animals.” (15)
It is apparent that the AVMA is not totally rejecting the idea of some “rights” for animals, but is rejecting the abolitionists view of no use of animals. The Animal Welfare Committee was aware that many veterinarians believe in limited rights for animals, and heard from its own members that many clients believe their animals have the right to good veterinary care. (11)

So what is the correct word to use “freedoms”, “rights”, “welfare”.? If we were talking about humans, we would use the term rights. The American public as a whole would use the term “rights”. Polls of the American Public show that most Americans do believe that animals do have some basic rights, while they also support the use of animals for a wide range of purposes, including biomedical research. (11) So why are we in the scientific and veterinary community still fighting against the use of a defining word?

If we accept the concept that animals do have some moral rights–then what are these? When must they give way to the compelling needs of humanity, and when should they be inviolate? Tannenbaum (11) suggests several standards by which to evaluate these moral questions. First, is that not every interest translates into a moral right. A right needs to reflect a very powerful moral interest which cannot easily over ridden. Second, moral rights can be outweighed by the interests or rights of others. For example, it may be in the best interest of a veterinary patient to receive a very costly treatment or procedure. If the owner cannot afford the expense, then the owner’s rights must outweigh the animals interests/needs, and the animal may, instead, be euthanatized.

Rights can be negative or positive. For example, anti-cruelty can be expressed that animals have the right not to be treated inhumanely, or to be treated humanely. In the past, most animal welfare/rights statements have been couched in the negative, but the new view is to use the positive venue. Rights can be general or specific. For example, a specific right would be to say that a seriously ill and dying person has a right to a quick and painless death; a general right would be to say that all patients are to be treated with compassion. Very general statements of rights tend to raise more issues than they answer or are so obviously plausible that they do not assist in answering difficult moral questions. For example, the statement that animals must be treated humanely. The problem with this statement is that no criteria for when the standard can be over ridden are provided–what justification is acceptable to allow animal pain and suffering?

In veterinary practice situations, Dr. Jacob Anteylyes has offered a list of every veterinary patient’s moral rights. (16) These are:
  1. Respect: right to be provided sincere veterinary medical and nursing care.
  2. Privacy: right to be housed separately in well-cared for quarters
  3. Purposeful death: right not to suffer frivolous pain or gratuitous death for the purposes of entertainment or amusement.
  4. Unavoidable pain: the right to receive prompt pain relief by the most effective means possible.
  5. Food and water: the right to receive water and food appropriate for the animals medical condition. (16)
For the laboratory animal a similar set of “rights” has been established through the Animal Welfare Act and the Public Health Service Policy, and includes:
  1. That procedures performed on them will avoid or minimize discomfort, distress and pain. [AWA,2.31 (i)]
  2. That they will only be used if there are no valid alternatives to animal use available and that they are the best model for the condition to be studied. [AWA, 2.31(ii)]
  3. That if painful or stressful procedures are justified, that analgesics, anesthetics or tranquilizers will be used, unless there is scientific justification, approved by the IACUC to the contrary. [AWA, 2.31 (iv.)]
  4. That no paralytics will be used on them without appropriate anesthesia.. [AWA, 2.31 (iv.)]
  5. That if they experience prolonged, chronic pain which can not be reversed, they will be humanely euthanatized as soon as possible. [AWA, 2.31 (v.)]
  6. They will be provided living conditions appropriate to their species, which will provide them with comfort. [AWA, 2.31. (vi)]
  7. That they will be provided food and water appropriate to their needs. [AWA, 2.31 (vi)]
  8. They will be provided necessary veterinary care. [AWA, 2.31, (vii), 2.33, 2.40]
  9. That the people who care for and work on them will know how to do so humanely. [AWA, 2.31 (viii)]
  10. If surgery is performed, they will be provided appropriate pre, peri, and post operative care. Surgery will be performed aseptically and they will not be subjected to more than one major survival procedure. [(AWA, 2.31 (ix)]
  11. When needed, they will be humanely euthanatized according to standards of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia. [AWA, 2.31 (xi)]
  12. They will be handled kindly. [AWA, 2.38(f)1.]
  13. If you are a dog, you must be given a chance to exercise [AWA, 3.8]
  14. If you are a non-human primate, your psychological well-being must be attended to [AWA, 3.81]
  15. And there are many more conditions which must be met under the Act and Policy.
The question of animal rights will continue to be debated for years and there is no automatic answer for the basic questions raised. In the end, your stance on where animals fall in perspective with humanity will depend on your belief system, knowledge, and thoughtful consideration of the issues. Each person needs to become familiar with the view points, and come to a decision as to what they believe and will espouse to others regarding ANIMAL RIGHTS.


  1. Oliver, C. Equals? The Seductive Calculus of Animal Rights. Reason. June: 22-27,1990
  2. Parker, J.F. With New Eyes: The Animal Rights Movement and Religion. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. 36(3):338-346, 1993
  3. Chapple, C.K. Religious and Secular Views: Eastern Religious Views. Lecture presented at the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine Form, May 3-6, 1998
  4. Chapple, C.,K. Noninjury to Animals: Jaina and Buddhist Perspectives. In T. Regan (Ed) Animal Sacrifices: Religious Perspectives of the Use of Animals in Sacrifice. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1986
  5. Donnelley, S. and Nolan K. Animals, Science and Ethics. Contents: A Special Supplement. The Hastings Center. May/June, 1990
  6. Beauchamp, T. Moral Issues About Animals. In The Human Use of Animals Case Studies of Ethical Choice. Oxford University Press, New York and London, 1998, pp 1-27
  7. Singer, P. Animal Liberation. Avon Books, New York, NY: 1975
  8. Tooley, M. Abortion and Infanticide. Philosophy and Public Affairs 2: 37-65, 1972
  9. Feinberg, J. In Defense of Abortion and Infanticide in The Problem of Abortion, 2nd Ed. Wadsworth Publishing Co, Belmont, CA. 1984
  10. Warren, M.A. On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion. Monist. 57, 1973
  11. Tannenbaum, J. Animal Rights. In Veterinary Ethics, 2nd Ed. Mosby Year-Book, 1995, pp 133-149
  12. Feinberg, J. Human Duties and Animal Rights. In, Morris R.K. and Fox, M. W. , editors: The Fifth Day: Animal Rights and Human Ethics. Acropolis Books, Washington, D.C., 1978, p 47
  13. World Veterinary Association Established Animal Welfare Policy. Synapse. 22(4):2, 1989
  14. Guiding Principles and the Term “Animal Rights”. J Am Vet Med Assoc 182:769, 1983
  15. Animal Welfare/Animal Rights. J Am Vet Med Assoc 197:311, 1990
  16. Antelyes, J. Animal Rights in Perspective. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 189:757-759, 1986

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