BOOKS: The Human Use of Animals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1998:

The Human Use of Animals:
Case Studies in Ethical Choice
by F. Barbara Orlans, Tom L. Beauchamp, Rebecca
Dresser, David B. Morton, and John P. Gluck
Oxford University Press (198 Madison Ave., New York,
NY 10016), 1998. Paperback, 330 pages, $26.50.

“The following,” Orlans et al pronounce
on page 5 of The Human Use of
Animals, “are universal precepts, stated in
the form of obligations, that all morally
serious persons in all moral traditions
accept: tell the truth, respect the privacy of
others, protect confidential information,
obtain consent before invading another person’s
body, do not kill, do not cause pain,
do not incapacitate, do not deprive of goods,
protect and defend the rights of others, and
prevent harm from occurring to others.”

That much said, however, the
authors do not further observe that legal science
and moral philosophy have historically
evolved not so much to enforce these universal
precepts, as to create exceptions to them,
so that the strong may not only keep doing
as they wish to the weak but also feel righteous
about doing it.
This has a perhaps unrealized consequence.
Orlans et al recognize that animals
are by far the most numerous and most
abused victims of legal systems and moral
theories which exclude them from consideration.
Mulling reasons why consideration
might be extended to animals, or at least to
some animals sometimes, they review the
development of debate over the use of animals
in biomedical research, cosmetic safety
testing, wildlife research, education, as
food, as pets, and in religious ritual. They
acknowledge but do not deeply examine the
opposite perspective, that “Animals are not
ours to eat, wear, or experiment on,” as
PETA cofounder Ingrid Newkirk puts it.
From that perspective, the central
issue would be not whether animals should
be promoted to personhood, i.e. possession
of legally recognized moral status, but
rather whether there are any c i r c u m s t a n c e s
under which sentient animals such as mammals,
birds, reptiles, and fish may be justifiably
deprived of such status.
The direction of the arguments
advanced by Orlans et al accurately reflect
the present situation of animals, and the status
of humans as their lords and masters:
possession, where animals are concerned,
is not only nine tenths of the law but all of it.
The arguments of Orlans et al may thus be
more easily accepted by the academic audience
they address.
Orlans et al might also note that
attorney Gary Francione, in particular, has
recently extensively argued the contrary perspective,
that animals too should be considered
as having certain inalienable rights,
universally endowed by their Creator.
Certainly Orlans et al could point
out that the likelihood of society turning
abruptly to see animals as possessors of
rights is nil, and that therefore there really is
no way to consider animal use in practical
terms except from the viewpoint that rights
are conferred by humans.
Granting all of that, The Human
Use of Animals still seems to me upside
down, looking at case histories of animal
issues in almost inverse relation and
sequence to their importance.
The logic by which animals are
experimented upon proceeds, I suspect for
most people, from the premise that they
may be eaten. There are some meat-eating
antivivisectionists, but common reasoning
would seem to be that since animals may be
eaten, and since curing disease is a purportedly
higher purpose than having dinner, certainly
animals may be used as experimental
subjects. Likewise, since animals may be
eaten, they may be hunted “for meat,” or be
used in any other way which involves suffering
no more painful or prolonged than standard
husbandry and slaughter.
Further, as proto-animal rights
activist Henry Spira has often pointed out,
animals raised and killed for food suffer
both the most abuse and in the greatest numbers.
Combined, all categories of animal
use discussed by Orlans et al except agriculture
account for under 40 million animal
deaths per year in the U.S.––but 58 million
cattle, 103 million hogs, and nine billion
chickens are killed for food, more than 95%
of them after confinement under conditions
which would constitute prosecutable cruelty
if inflicted on a dog, cat, horse, or parrot.
But lab animals and wildlife
research projects are on campus, near academic
theorists, and livestock mostly are not.
Thus lab animal issues and wildlife research
occupy 167 pages of The Human Use of
A n i m a l s, while livestock issues get 45
pages––28 of them on the relatively tiny foie
gras and veal industries. That leaves just 17
pages to chickens; none to hogs.
One might appreciate that the routine
mindless mistreatment of livestock,
especially chickens, at last gets any attention
at all. One might also note that Orlans
herself has long seemed much more interested
in so-called food animals than most of the
organized animal rights movement, which
long ago learned that decrying the deeds of
mad scientists is more lucrative than making
people uncomfortable about their diet.
Yet all that is beside the point.
This book is not titled the “Academic use of
animals,” or “preoccupations of the animal
rights movement.” Titled The Human Use
of Animals, it barely addreses the issues
which logically should have been central.

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