Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 28, 2008
Animals are God’s creatures and merit our stewardship
Seal slaughter furor prompts an examination of human/animal roles
A Shepherd Speaks
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
Whenever we consider doing something that would interfere with their needs, we are morally obligated to take them into account.
Bentham points to the capacity for suffering as the vital characteristic that gives a being the right to equal consideration. All animals have the ability to suffer in the same way and to the same degree that humans do. They feel pain, pleasure, fear, frustration, loneliness and motherly love. Whenever we consider doing something that would interfere with their needs, we are morally obligated to take them into account.
As PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk has said, "When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness and fear, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. Each one values his or her life and fights the knife."
Nevertheless, it turns out that some animals are more equal than others. One would expect that consistency would demand the condemnation of poisoning babies in the womb with a saline solution or cutting them up with surgical tools but Newkirk and Singer don't believe that human beings have the right to life.
For Newkirk, that's a supremacist perversion. Singer argues that since a pig may be more intelligent than a retarded child, it is all right to have an abortion but not to eat bacon.
Philosophically, we should raise the question: Why should sentience or interest be the basis for a natural right? Why should a being's desires or interests entail a right to have them satisfied? Why should a being's capacity to experience pleasure or pain entail a right to have pain alleviated?
The only plausible criterion for acknowledging natural rights is that the being in question has obligations. If I have an obligation to do something, this entails a right that no one prevent me from fulfilling that obligation and a right to what I need to fulfill it.
Obligations, in turn, imply free choices and the corresponding ability to deliberate. Animals lack that ability. Humans possess it. Human infants and mental defectives possess these abilities potentially; they are essentially rational. Animals are not.
We do have indirect obligations to animals arising from our obligation to act rationally, for example, not cruelly, to respect how our actions affect other human beings and our obligation to respect all the cosmos.
Theologically, the arguments are much more telling and are based on the integrity of creation and responsible stewardship. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
"Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. . . .
"God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure.
"Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.
"It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery.
"One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons."
While we are called to respect all creation and must use it wisely, the key is "we can use it." Following the principle of stewardship, nothing is intrinsically wrong with using animals wisely for labour, transportation, clothing, food or other needs.
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