July 7, 2022

Animal rights gains ground in US legal system

Researchers are beginning to feel threatened by the rapid development of laws favourable to animals, according to a wide-ranging feature in Science.

Researchers are beginning to feel threatened by the rapid development of laws favourable to animals, according to a wide-ranging feature in Science. About 120 law schools are now offering courses in animal law. Former “The Price Is Right” game show host Bob Barker has given US$1 million to each of 8 leading law schools — Harvard, Stanford, Columbia,Duke, University of Virginia, UCLA, Northwestern and Georgetown – to promote animal rights.

“No one is arguing that orangutans should be given the right to vote, but some legal scholars see no reason why apes shouldn’t have rights similar to those of a child or a person in a coma,” says Science journalist Greg Miller.

Practitioners of animal law have learned that incremental change is more successful than a frontal attack. Steven Wise,a Florida lawyer and founder of the Non human Rights Project (NHRP) is a leading strategist. Together with other lawyers he is searching for a good case and sympathetic courts.

“NHRP is combing over the judicial decisions of state appellate court and high court judges to determine their judicial philosophies. Volunteers are also looking for courts sympathetic to civil rights and animal welfare issues, as well as those that have ruled in favor of gay marriage, which Wise suspects might reflect a sensitivity to equality that would work in his favor.”

“Common law is the law that judges make, so you don’t get into this issue of legislative intent,” says Mr Wise. “We’re looking for courts that view common law as elastic, as something that changes as morality changes or as new scientific facts come in.”

Activists want the courts to recognize animal rights because they can feel pain and be self-aware. “Inclusion of the interests of the animals themselves is what is novel in the animal law approach,” says Kathy Hessler, who teaches a course on animal law at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. If this philosophy were adopted, animals would cease to be treated as property and would become more like persons. This is what alarms biomedical researchers, many of whom find animal extremely useful in their work.

Miller also interviewed Richard Cupp, of Pepperdine University School of Law in California. He opposes animal rights while supporting animal welfare. “…at the end of the day any legal case involving animals will be decided by humans. The developing field of animal law should focus on emphasizing and delineating humans’ moral responsibility toward other animals rather than on establishing legal rights. ~ Science, April 1

Michael Cook
animal rights