Do Animals Have Rights?

The concept of inherent rights is well established for humans. Do any of those rights extend to animals?

Humans are born (at least in the United States) with certain “unalienable” rights, which include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Bill of Rights enumerate additional rights. Other countries may differ in exact language, but in most places it is assumed that humans have some rights from birth.

Other animals are not human, however, and human laws and ideas do not automatically extend to them. But what are the differences between humans and other animals, and do those differences really matter?

One difference, of course, is that other animals don’t have laws, or form governments. Why should human laws and rights apply to non-humans?

While it is true that no animal other than humans have written a constitution, it is not clear that a written document is needed. A colony of bees has a well-defined hierarchy, for instance. You could almost consider a hive to be the equivalent of a (human) country.

What about the argument that humans are sentient, and they are the only such animal? That argument relies on the definition of sentience, and there does not seem to be a way to know for certain if other animals are, in fact, sentient.

Human laws are often written for the benefit of those people who do not have any political power. They allow for people with little or no power to avoid being taken advantage of by those who do. That would certainly seem to describe animals, who quite literally have no voice.

And yet, there are some rights which cannot and should not apply to animals. No taxation without representation? That doesn’t make any sense at all — animals don’t pay taxes, and it would seem impossible to give (direct) representation to, say, a bear.

So what rights, if any, should (non-human) animals have?

Related questions: Does nature have rights? How are humans like other animals? How are they different? Personal rights or public safety? What are our responsibilities to others?

2 thoughts on “Do Animals Have Rights?”

  1. No one can grant you a right; if it is a right, it’s already yours. However, many have been denied for centuries until those in power have “recognized” some rights as acceptable. Animals also have rights, but corporations, individuals, and societies in general refuse to acknowledge this. They/We refuse even to ask the questions. I know that doing so creates problems for humans (and pegs me as a hypocrite in many respects).

    What about corporate farming? Or hunting? What about testing done on mice? What about our destroying the environments that animals need to thrive or simply live? I don’t have pure answers to many of these questions.

    Here’s what I do know: The issue of animal rights will only progress once we normalize asking the questions. What rights should naturally be recognized for animals? Should their degree of sentience matter? These are just two questions that individuals and governments should ask.

    In asking the questions and granting some rights, we will get closer to a more sustainable and humane way of living.

  2. It’s an interesting question, in that I don’t believe “rights” are “inherent” to any being, but are instead a human concept created to smooth the functioning of human society/civilization. I believe more Rights are better than fewer, and abhor the phrase “might makes right.” Civilization is all about working as a group, protecting the weak from the strong, helping the greatest possible number of us survive. That’s where Rights become encoded in law.

    So, how does this extend to animals/non-sentient beings? Since Rights are a legal concept only, I don’t believe they apply to any creature that doesn’t understand legal concepts. Bees in a colony/hive don’t have Rights, they have functions. Our livestock should have legal protections from cruelty, but that’s more about morality than Rights. Since I do eat meat, clearly my own stand is that killing our livestock (or fish in the ocean) is not “cruel” whereas the deplorable condition of factory farmed meat before their slaughter should be prevented to the highest possible extent. But again that’s not about the Rights of the cow/chicken/pig etc.; it’s about the humans controlling them acting in a humane fashion for our own moral principles, for our own feelings about ourselves. It is immoral to cause needless pain to others, whether they’re human or not.

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