Originally Published: March 9, 2010 12:53 p.m.
The animal rights issue is by far one of the most controversial of our day. This debate encompasses legal, political, economic, moral, ethical and religious issues concerning pets, farm animals, animals in research and recreation, as well as wildlife.
Animal advocate groups, as well as government agencies, have formed over the past many years in order to debate and bring legislation about for the protection of certain animal species in the wild as well as those under the supervision of humans. A great shift is taking place considering what role animals have in the design of this planet as well as in our lives. The Global Warming issue has escalated the quandary to an even higher level. Now we are at a crossroads to bringing forth legislation to give animals rights. This will be a tangled web of debate and legislation that could go on for years to come.
Cass Sunstein, a former professor at the University of Chicago, is the author of several books, has studied law, and now holds the office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for our nation. His interest in the subject of animal rights is on the forefront. In Sunstein's book, "Animal Rights," written in conjunction with Martha Nussbaum, he considers the question of giving rights to animals.
Sunstein approaches the issue himself from a legal-political view. The position he holds as this nation's regulatory affairs administrator could have a great influence on what changes are to come concerning the rights of animals. He is in support of animals being permitted to bring lawsuits into the courts, with human beings representing them. It is important to note he goes on to say there is a problem in defining what animal rights are. His philosophy is that most people believe in some sort of animal rights, but the legal and political issues need to be defined. To plead his perception, "protection against suffering" is the definition he uses in determining what those rights should be. The fact remains, at this time, we have no measure in place in order to calculate what an animal suffers. Here is where the battle begins.
Will these rights be inclusive to all animals including mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and insects? We can see where imposing protection for rodents or insects would pose a problem for farmers trying to eradicate them from eating their crops. This problem soon transfers to the consumer because we eat the food the farmers grow. We can all imagine what a country of very hungry people would be capable of. On a personal level, trying to make it illegal for stepping on a bug in one's kitchen to eradicate it would be an idea that would not even prove enforceable. We are already facing problems arising out of laws protecting certain species of animals. A good example is in the case concerning the delta smelt in California. In order to protect the home environment of the delta smelts, water was blocked from reaching farmers' fields down stream. Many farmers lost their crops when the water was stopped. As for the delta smelt, it did not fair well even with the protection in place. No consideration was given as to how this lack of water moving down stream would effect other animals depending on it. This was definitely a no-win situation. So we can see that animal rights must be tailored with taking into account many variables.
We are dealing with not only different species of animals, but animal types, being both predator and prey. Within the species and types we must give attention to their habitat. Three forms of habitat should be considered - domestic (pets, farm and research) animals, sanctuary (zoos, sanctuaries and aquarium parks) animals, and animals in the wild. Within the habitat groups the differences of opinion on what weighs in on animal suffering is balanced between economic, moral, ethical and religious views.
Clogging up an already overburdened court system with animal rights cases also could prove to be problematic. What will happen when Patty Peacock gets his feathers plucked out by the kid next door and we have a case pending for the peacock to prosecute the child for abuse. The courts could be loaded with many frivolous lawsuits. Will this then require our legal system to set up a whole new court system just to handle animal cases? We already bring animal abuse cases before a judge to prosecute irresponsible owners. Now, Sunstein wants to add lawyers to the mix.
In the next few weeks I will examine some of the obstacles that we face in considering giving animals rights. How our country embraces this issue will have an impact on all of us.