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The ethics issue: Should we give other animals rights?

Minimising the suffering of other life forms is a laudable goal – but there's also human well-being to consider

Minimise suffering of other life forms vs Maximise human well-being

For centuries, if not millennia, ethical debates have centred on the notion that human beings have certain fundamental, inalienable rights. No matter what you do, or how evilly you behave, those rights cannot be stripped away. Even if violating your rights would turn out to be for the common good, tough luck – they’re there to stay.

But the question of what other animals should benefit from such blanket protections is an open one. Last November, an Argentine court endowed a chimp called Cecilia with the right to live in her natural habitat and ordered her release from Mendoza zoo. Six months later, a Canadian court upheld the notion that pigs are property that can be denied food, water or rest in transit for up to 36 hours.

So what should qualify? If our objective is to minimise suffering in any fellow creature, is it time to give non-human animals rights on a par with our own? Should the intelligence of an octopus exempt it from being hunted and eaten by humans? Does the same go for pigs? Are mice entitled to freedom of movement?

The short answer is, it’s complicated. “There are different kinds of rights,” says Andrew Knight, who studies animal welfare and ethics at the University of Winchester, UK. “Although sentient animals should have key moral rights respected, it makes no sense to ..

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