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Should Animals Have Legal Rights?

By: Guest Contributor - Apr 8, 2015, 12:14 pm

We’re All Animals

By Guido Bajaña Yude

The renowned jurist Eugenio Zaffaroni once said, “I do not see how the realization of human rights is possible without also recognizing that other animal species are subjects of law.” Throughout history, legal claims have helped us advance as a society, and we owe great debt to animals, since they are the most vulnerable and abused members of our society.

Gradually, we have granted certain moral and legal considerations to them. Morality encompasses a wide sphere, and as time goes by, it will expand and become more inclusive to all those who form our society, including animals.

The Cartesian theory that animals are merely machines is extinct, and science has verified the ability of animals to feel. “The question is not can they reason, nor can they talk, but can they suffer?” as Jeremy Bentham wrote in the late 18th century. Human and non-human animals share this important quality.

To protect animals under the law also allows us to protect humans from violence. Any law that seeks the protection of animals is one that aims to achieve a peaceful society. In the specific case of the Organic Law on Animal Welfare (LOBA) in Ecuador, there are various goals being sought.

First, the law aims to change the legal status of the animals, since according to Ecuadorian civil code they are merely things that move, when we know that is not the case. Such consideration to animals needs to change, and laws should adapt to the times we are living. We need legislation to be more inclusive to other species.

Furthermore, a number of studies have shown a strong correlation between animal violence and social violence. According to the FBI, most mass murderers and serial killers are likely to have first practiced their acts of cruelty on animals, before moving on to their own species.

With a proposal like LOBA, the goal is to significantly reduce the problem of interpersonal violence by striking at the root of the matter, which is animal violence.

The understanding that animals are subjects of law should not be surprising, since laws and the solutions to many of the problems we face today point to a more progressive world.

We should all let go of the “dominant species of the world” mentality, and realize that we are all animals. Our natural differences should not be an excuse to abuse non-humans.

Finally, we need to understand that non-human animals have their own purpose in this world. They are not living for us, but with us.

Guido Bajaña Yude is an Ecuadorian social communicator, graduate of the Catholic University of Santiago de Guayaquil (UCSG). He works as an audiovisual producer, and as an activist for animal rights. He is also the coordinator of Colectivo Vegano. Follow @Guidoba.

Reason Sets Humans Apart

By Andrés Ortíz

EspañolIn order to determine whether animals are subjects of law, it is necessary to ask first why we have rights as human beings, and then find the natural differences that separate us from animals.

Why do we have rights? There are several theories as to the origin of rights. For some, they are bestowed by some deity, while for others they are the products of sovereignty, manifested in some representative body.

The first view necessitates the resurrection of a shaman-like figure, or the acceptance of religious institutions as superior entities, since they would naturally be in charge of unveiling these divine rights. If we accept the second view, however, then rights depend on the will of the sovereign body.

While the second theory remains valid, both are insufficient. Rights arise within society as institutions to ensure harmony. Reason, understood as the ability to discern right from wrong, is what allows individuals to make decisions by evaluating the possible results of an action.

It allows individuals to establish rules between them, so they can peacefully coexist. These norms are the right to life, liberty, and property — all of which ensure social harmony. They are universally recognized, since the birth of reason, and respect toward these rights guarantees peace.

By contrast, in the animal world, the situation is very different. These creatures are guided by their instincts, and their interaction with other species is a result of Darwinian natural evolution. Therefore, only the strongest survive. In the absence of humans, in places where animals interact, there is no other law than the survival of the fittest.

Therefore, rights can only be human, since these tools for harmonious coexistence necessarily involve the use of reason: in order to protect our rights, we must first make a rational decision to respect them.

Some believe that having a developed nervous system and therefore the ability to feel pain is sufficient reason to consider animals subjects of law.

It is true that non-human species can feel pain, and that human beings can often develop close emotional relationships with them.

It is normal that as humans we generate emotional connections with other living beings. However, extending rights to animals ignores the rational origin of those rights.

Human beings who deliberately cause animals to suffer are deplorable. This should be criticized, avoided in all forms, and socially punished (as it is now). But this is not reason enough to turn animals into subjects of law.

Andrés Ortiz Rico is a Colombian lawyer, graduate from the University of Antioquia, and student of economics at the EAFIT University in Medellín. He works as a local coordinator for Students for Liberty in Colombia. Follow @suramerican.