Animal rights and wrongs

“AlanA” at Harry’s Place takes great exception to posters from animal rights campaigners Animal Aid which encourage people not to donate to charities which fund animal experiments. In particular he objects to a lady called Joan Court who appears in this poster, calling her ”a stupid woman who apparently believes that a human life – her life, indeed – is equal in value to a that of her carnivorous cat.” This post is based on two comments which I made there in response.

In my younger days I was a member of Animal Aid and took a keen interest in Animal Rights issues generally, and I did occasionally come across people like Joan Court who opposed vivisection despite having serious conditions themselves. Labelling such people as “stupid” for making a particular moral judgement which they are entirely entitled to make is pretty pathetic IMHO.

At the time I was completely opposed to vivisection but I reluctantly came believe that the benefits from using animals in experiments outweighed the moral objections, so I accept that there is a justification for a limited amount of such experiments (subject to tight controls) where it can be demonstrated that there are likely to be real benefits and there is no feasible alternate method. That doesn’t mean that the moral objections themselves are invalid and it’s an area where I still feel some discomfort, so I don’t agree with those who seem to dismiss such concerns entirely.
Furthermore, I still have some sympathy towards Animal Aid – pressure from such groups has resulted in restrictions in some of the less justifiable experiments on animals, for example the EU restrictions on cosmetics testing and a reduction in the use of the LD50 test, and they campaign on issues other than vivisection. I don’t think one has to agree with all of the aims of campaign groups to see them as playing a necessary role.

On the question of whether animals actually have “rights” I’m not sure that such arguments are really productive or necessary. Personally I don’t have much objection to the concept, with the caveats they any such rights only apply to animals’ interractions with humans, not other animals, and that it doesn’t necessary imply that they have the same rights as humans. But I think it is generally accepted that humans do have certain moral responsibilites in the way we treat animals from which follow certain limitations on our behaviour towards them, and most questions surrounding “animal rights” can be couched in terms that question where the boundaries of those responsibilities and behaviour lie.

Finally, there is another point raised by AlanA which should be addressed. He claims that people opposed to vivisection should refuse any kind of medical treatment which was developed using animals. But this post is long enough already – I will return to that question in a future post.

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