Thursday, February 13, 2003

TOWARD RIGHTS FOR ANIMALS

Rights From Wrongs
A movement to grant legal protection to animals is gathering forces
by Jim Motavalli - February 13, 2003

Does a pig packed in a tiny factory cage waiting to be killed have any rights in America? Should it have?

And what about the chimpanzee, which shares 99 percent of its active DNA with humans? Should anyone be allowed to "own" an animal with so many of our own attributes, including the ability to reason, use tools and respond to language? Isn't that like slavery?...

In 2003, however, a new movement is gathering force that is trying to afford some genuine legal rights for animals. Animal rights are back on the agenda, at least partly due to the release of the new book Dominion by an unlikely author, White House speechwriter Matthew Scully.... Scully describes the Animal Welfare Act as "a collection of hollow injunctions, broad loopholes and light penalties when there are any at all."...

The Great Ape Project, founded in 1993 "to include the nonhuman great apes within the community of equals," giving them fundamental protections of life, liberty and bodily integrity, has won its first great victory in New Zealand, which in 1999 banned most experimentation on "non-human hominids." There are loopholes that allow for testing if it is "in the best interests of the non-human hominid."

Peter Singer, cofounder of the Great Ape Project, a professor at Princeton and a pioneer in animal rights philosophy, said that the New Zealand law "may be a small step forward for great apes, but it is nevertheless historic. It's the first time that a parliament has voted in favor of changing the status of a group of animals so dramatically that the animal cannot be treated as a research tool."...

Another influential voice arguing for legal protection for animals is attorney Steven Wise, a former Harvard animal rights lecturer, a speaker at the chimpanzee symposium and the author of Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals and Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights. Wise makes what he calls the "liberty" argument. He says that some nonhuman animals, including great apes, have "a kind of autonomy that judges should easily recognize as sufficient for legal rights." He also makes an "equality" argument, pointing out that children born severely retarded and dependent are automatically granted full human rights, and that "the principle of equality requires us to give [the same rights] to a bonobo who has high levels of cognition and a great deal of mental complexity."...

And then there's Rutgers law professor Gary Francione, author of such books as Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement. Until 1999, Francione directed the Rutgers-based Animal Rights Law Clinic, but he closed it down, claiming that "the American animal rights movement has collapsed" and become reformist, rather than radical.

Francione takes on nearly everyone. Though he once served as attorney for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, he is now openly critical of the group for not being radical enough.

Francione compares the laws governing animal ownership to those regulating slavery. "They're structurally similar in that they favor the owner's interests, as the slave laws did," he says. "If you examine anti-cruelty laws carefully, what you see is that the laws don't provide any more protection than is necessary for efficient exploitation of the animal. It's crazy to argue that we're ever going to get significant legal change from common law courts. If Congress passed a law making factory farming illegal, for instance, it would drive up the price of meat and people would be in the streets."

The result, he says, is very small gains. He cites PETA's celebration of the Burger King veggie burger, and Peter Singer's favorable comments about McDonald's decision to give battery hens more cage space. "Maybe Peter finds that thrilling; I do not," Francione says. "It is a clear indication that welfarist reform is useless."

Francione also denigrates the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection (CHIMP) Act, signed by President Clinton in 2000, which requires retired laboratory chimpanzees to be provided with retirement shelters. "The law says the chimps can't be killed -- unless the secretary of agriculture says it's necessary to do so," Francione says....