Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Threat of Lawyers to Animal Research

P. Michael Conn, co-author of The Animal Research War, warns about the plan to use the law to undermine--and eventually destroy--animal research in a column in The Scientist. This isn't alarmism. These law clinics at universities like Harvard and Rutgers hope to set lawyers in motion to do just that. From his column:
Under current US law, things are either property or persons. Legal rights for animals require the establishment of personhood; property cannot have rights. US welfare laws view animals as property, but emphasize our responsibility to care for them humanely. The effort to ascribe "personhood" to animals is a central focus of animal rights supporters, since changing public perception of animals is one way to stop their use in food, clothing, entertainment, and research. In some jurisdictions, "pet owner" has been replaced by "animal guardian," ascribing a different status for the animal. References to animal researchers as "vivisectors" who "exploit" "sentient beings" and practice "torture" and "cruelty" (applied generally to research), also impact the public. In a poll earlier this year (May 7–10), only 57% felt that animal research was morally acceptable, down from 62% in 2004.

The future may see an attempt to recognize Aristotle's three categories: things, animals, and persons. Animals may not ultimately enjoy the rights of persons, but the law may become increasingly specific about our obligation to care for them. If, on the other hand, "personhood" for animals is achieved, this status is likely to be in conflict with animal research. Failure to address developments in the education of law students is likely to have a long-ranging impact on the ability to develop new treatments needed for human and animal well-being.
I discuss this matter at some length in my upcoming book A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy. The threat is real, ranging from obtaining the right for animals to sue--supported by Obama Regulations "Czar" Cass Sunstein and Harvard law professor Lawrence Tribe--to having them declared "persons," a current such case involvling a chimp now in front of the European Court of Human Rights. We ignore Conn's warning at great peril to scientific advancement and the alleviation of human suffering.


  1. Amen. What fools are they who couldn't see the legal dangers to themselves - and their pets - when they stopped being owners and became "guardians."


    Oopsie, shouldn't have said "hogwash;" how politically incorrect of me!

  2. Not totally balanced. Sunstein's main argument is that cruelty against animals laws are underenforced and enforcement can be supplemented, as in environmental legislation, by private attorney generals. It's a legal fiction, not a moral argument that animals are our equals. Also, it's an unremarkable conservative/libertarian concept of using common-law/individualist courts to adjudicate rights disputes instead of executive/state regulatory apparatus. If you think there'd be a rush of frivolous lawsuits against farmers for animal cruelty, then institute reforms to frivolous suits (like SLAPP). Do you really believe cruelty laws are optimally enforced in the slaughter and livestock industry (or even general pet ownership)? If not, what would you propose as an alternative? I'm not willing to support absolutely painless aniimal life at any cost to food prices, but the cost-benefit issue is less black and white.

  3. Dustin: I am aware of what he wants, as a lawyer. Besides, as to effect, that is a distinction without a difference. Sunstein's approach would allow the liberationists to sue animal industries into the dust. Even unrighteous suits have to be defended.