It's Right to Give Animals Rights

Kimberly TanJanuary 30, 2017Ethics and MoralityFeatures
It's Right to Give Animals Rights

We live in a world marked by its shift toward equality.

From absolute monarchs deriving their power through the Divine Right of Kings to the Declaration of Independence deriving its power through the consent of the governed, the history of our world is the story of this transition. This idea of the consent of the governed and equality has permeated the historical and political sphere, serving as the basis for every civil rights battle in recorded history.

With this concept of equality, these civil rights battles have made it universally accepted that the torture or slaughter of humans is morally repugnant. We empathize with the cruelties of the Holocaust, the devastation of the Rwandan Genocide, and the atrocities of the Bosnian War. We immediately denounce these acts as horrifying and immoral, proclaiming that all people deserve equal rights regardless of their race or cultural identity. We recognize these as massive violations of human rights.

Similarly, when we hear reports about animals being slaughtered in factory farms or about the horrors of animal testing, we all instinctively cringe in pity for these tortured animals. We say that maybe animals should be given a little more space, a little more food, and better treatment, though still not to the same degree as humans. Although we feel pity for these animals, hardly anyone instantly reaches the same conclusion that is reached for violence toward humans: that animals deserve equal rights.

Animals have perpetually been subjected to crimes that make even the most stoic feel horrified when they hear of them. In factory farms, which inject thousands of farm animals with hormones to maximize profit per animal, animals are cramped into such tight quarters that they often are unable to move. Factory farm owners frequently starve their hens for two weeks to coerce molting, killing up to 10 percent of these hens. Abused and starved, these hens, as well as other caged birds, are forced to regularly resort to cannibalism. Removing birds’ beaks without morphine or anesthesia is a regular practice.

Animals subjected to animal testing fare no better than their factory-farmed counterparts. In large manufacturing plants and reputable universities, animals are poisoned and tortured by research that often yields results that are unreliable or not useful. During these tests, mice are forced to grow tumors their own size, rats endure purposely induced seizures and crushed spinal cords, and pigs and sheep suffer as their skin is burned off. In less sophisticated trials, instructors cut open pigs and dogs, force plastic tubes down ferrets’ fragile throats, and burn pigs for up to 15 hours. Atrocities like these compel all of us, not simply staunch animal rights supporters, to call for a change in our treatment of animals — a change that ought to afford animals with inviolable rights.

Why should we ascribe these rights to humans but not animals? Despite the huge progress made in promoting universal human rights, the advancement of animal rights has remained disturbingly stagnant. Unable to communicate through words and ill-equipped to defend themselves against humans, animals have been consistently exploited and used for human ends, our ethical duties to them tossed into the shadowy backgrounds. By asserting that humans are more intelligent than animals, opponents of animal rights sometimes justify this cruelty toward animals by claiming that since animals are not as intelligent or rational as humans, they do not deserve the same rights.

Using this logic, however, many humans would not even qualify to receive rights since they do not pass this same test of rationality. However, although infants are clearly not rational and are completely dependent on others for survival, it would be morally repulsive to suggest that infants don’t have rights and can be subjugated at will. In the case of mentally retarded patients as well, it becomes apparent that these marginal cases for rational capacity make the distinction between those who deserve rights and those who don’t murky and undefined. Here, it becomes difficult to justify why infants and the mentally challenged deserve rights, but animals do not.

This distinction between animals and humans becomes even less pronounced when the capacities that make us human are examined. Recent studies indicate that traits thought to be uniquely human have been identified in animal species as well. Orangutan mothers develop close, life-long relationships with their offspring, chickens recognize and abide by various social hierarchies, and meerkats in the Kalahari Desert even sacrifice themselves to stay with ill family members. Animals are evidently highly complex creatures that have established complicated societies of their own. This profound complexity of a society built by creatures we deem to be less intelligent than us seriously calls into question the belief of our superior intelligence. When animals sacrifice themselves for their family, it makes it hard for us not to empathize with their compassion and see a bit of ourselves in them.

We should utilize examples like these as opportunities to realize the similarities, not the differences, between animals and us. By seeing ourselves in animals through their ability to love and protect, we will be able to take the first step in accepting that animals really aren’t so different from us at all and that they ought to receive the same rights as humans.

Treating animals more humanely while still refusing to recognize their rights is not sufficient either. Just as the settlers in America viewed natives as “noble savages,” humane treatment without rights nevertheless maintains the distinction between animals and humans and still justifies the belief that humans are superior to animals, leading humans to congratulate themselves for supporting humane treatment without realizing that animals already had a right not to be treated badly. The inherent worth of animals will still go unnoticed, their similarities to humans still ignored. These changes do not recognize that animals and humans are inextricably linked and thus deserve rights, not simply improved conditions.

However, even if animals are actually entirely unlike us, if we accept these differences as reasons to view us as superior and them as inferior, we lead ourselves down a path that justifies different treatment based on arbitrary differences, consequently justifying segregation. Similar arguments have also been used to justify the Rwandan Genocide and the Holocaust. Despite the fact that humans and animals will never be entirely similar, it is essential that we focus on what makes us the same rather than what makes us distinct.

In order to properly respect animals, we need to embrace the set of rights that animals are due. Factory farming, which causes excessive cruel and unnecessary pain to farm animals, should be abolished immediately and replaced with a system of open grazing, where animals are fed their natural diet without hormones and are given open space to roam, allowing them to exhibit their natural behavior and protecting their right to live longer and healthier lives. Though animal rights opponents have argued that these farms are not profitable and that these funds would come at the expense of humans, these arguments are simply untrue. Sustainable open grazing farms have been more common in recent years not only because of their respect for animal rights, but also because humanely raised meat is sold at higher prices, allowing these farms to generate substantial profit; in fact, in the New York Times bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, author Michael Pollan cites American farmer Joel Salatin’s sustainable farm as an example of how to both treat animals properly while simultaneously generating revenue.

Similarly, animal testing should be forbidden not only because of the outright violation of animal rights, but also because the majority of experiments result in failures that may actually harm human health if the results attained from animals and humans do not correspond. After analyzing more than 500 scientific publications from over a 10-year period, Andrew Knight, a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and the director for Animal Consultants International, concluded that results from animal testing were frequently either “equivocal or inconsistent with human outcomes,” and that only two out of 20 reviews of animal models furthered valuable conclusions, with one of those conclusions being questionable. However, non-animal experimentation research such as in vitro techniques, high-tech scans, and human simulators are far quicker, less costly, and more accurate than animal testing. With benefits amassing for animals and humans, especially the surprising lower costs, there is ample reason for us to allocate funds and resources toward the movement to respect animal rights and stop our gross injustices against them.

In contrast, vegetarianism is a principle that individuals must decide to adopt independent of codified law and restrictions. While refraining from consuming meat should be the ultimate conclusion of people’s moral compasses, the only way to recognize animal rights is just that: to truly recognize them. Prohibiting meat would simply impose our beliefs upon the populace, and although it may seem to achieve the ultimate goal, it would only force people not to consume animals, not to see that animals have the right not to be eaten. To reach this respect for animal rights, people must individually come to a consensus that animals are inviolable and then voluntarily become vegetarian. Though it may require a long process and some may not choose to become vegetarian for financial reasons or personal preferences, it is far better to have a few truly devoted to the cause than spawn resentment among the many for being forced to comply by this restriction. If simply presented with the facts, many of these people would realize on their own that becoming vegetarian is morally admirable as well as beneficial to their own health. In 2006, PETA cited several studies that verified that people with plant-based diets “have 2.5 times fewer cardiac events, including heart attacks, strokes, bypass surgery, and angioplasty” than those who ate meat, saving not only more money in the long-term from millions in surgical fees but also numerous human lives. If protecting one’s health is still not sufficient reason, non-vegetarians should at the very least focus on buying produce from local markets, where farmers raise and slaughter their animals using humane methods. At supermarkets, buying foods with “Certified Humane Raised and Handled” labels would also support the humane animal rights cause.

I’m not saying that we don’t have problems to solve on the human front, because we definitely do, but the unique atrocities that we have committed to animals justify our involvement to repair our past and present wrongs. We are perfectly equipped at this moment to lead the change. We’ve observed and even lived through previous rights movements, and they have taught us how to promote change, advocate equality, and urge activism for a movement. We just need to decide to do it.

For more information on how to help with animal rights causes, be sure to check out:




Animal Legal Defense Fund

Kimberly Tan is a senior at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, California. As the President of her school’s 200-member speech and debate team, she loves researching societal issues and traveling the nation attending debate tournaments. She is a staff writer for her school’s literary magazine and founded Overture Literary Magazine, a creative writing program at her local middle school. Writing is one of her greatest passions, and she has published numerous articles both online and in print. KidSpirit’s Ethics and Morality issue was her first opportunity to write for a greater global audience, and she is very grateful for that.