Animal rights refers to a state in which some or all, non-human animals are eligible to possess the right to life, and that certain basic necessities of life, like being free from suffering should be given to animals, as they are to human beings (Taylor, 2009).
Animal rights as a movement are also of the opinion that the same way humans are entitled to and their rights are recognized is the same way those of animals should be treated. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a leading animal rights body says that ‘animals do not belong to humans to be used for experiments, food, clothing, entertainment purposes or abuse in any other way’. Anything we will not morally do to our fellow human should not be done to animals.
Animal rights believe that animals should be accorded the right to be free from use by humans and being exploited. It explains that humans do not have the right to make use of animals for their personal purposes. This may contain using them for food, clothing, experimentation, exploitation (circus acts/ entertainment), hunting, etc. Animals over the centuries have been used for such selfish personal entertainment like bull-fighting, horse races, circus acts, amongst others. These animals are either overworked in order to reach perfection in their performances, or left to stay in unconducive environments, with little or no food away from their natural habitat.
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Animal rights is the belief that animals possess inherent worth which is detached from any worth and value they have towards humans and they should be morally considered. The right to be free from being oppresses, confinced and abused by humans belongs to them (Lin, 2017).
The misconception exists that supporters of animal rights want nonhuman animals to possess same or similar rights as people do. This does not mean that cats should vote or have the right to vote, or that chickens should be able to carry guns/ firearms. The problem doesn’t stem from the fact that animals possess same rights as people but that humans do not have the right to exploit and use animals as they please, for whatever purpose.
Animal rights movements operate on two main principles. They are;
- Speciesism: Richard D. Ryder propounded the term. Speciesism is the unequal treatment of humans, singularly on the premise that they are of a certain specie. It is similar to racism or sexism. This has been recognized since 1970s. Those who reject it are of the opinion that animals should not be dismissed and their rights downplayed because they do not belong to the human specie. The rights of animals (not to be used or exploited) and humans should be taken the same. Several differences exist between humans and non-human animals, but the animal rights community are of the opinion that those differences are not that important. Due to this, animal right movements reject speciesism.
- Sentience: This refers to the ability of one to suffer. Animals, as humans are sentient beings. Jeremy Bentham on animal rights said, “The question is not, Can animals reason? nor, Can animals talk? but, Can animals suffer?” According to animal rights supporters and movements, the fact that an animal can suffer is the reason why they should be morally considered. If we believe that it is possible for animals to feel pain and suffering or be hurt, we should not cause them undue suffering.
Viewing and taking human suffering to be different from animal suffering is to be a specieist, which is discriminating against the rights of animals (if humans have the right to use and exploit them) due to what specie they are, on the grounds that they are not human. Singer, 1975 on the subject of sentience, said that humans have the duty to lessen or avoid causing suffering to animals, the same way they have an obligation to avoid causing harm or suffering to humans like themselves. Due to the realization and evidence that animals and primates have the ability to suffer and are capable of different emotions and thought processes, scientists have been led to look for other ways to study behaviour without hurting animals in the process.
Several critics to the animal right movement have given some justifications or reasons why animals can be exploited/ can have their rights disregarded. They are;
- Animals cannot think or reason.
- Animals don’t have duties.
- Animals in comparison to humans, are not important.
- Animals were made for our use.
These reasons were of course debunked by animal rights movements. Supporters of animal rights are of the opinion that animals possess an inherent value, and this value is completely detached from the purpose they serve to humans and what humans think they are intended for. They believe that every creature with a will to live possesses the right to live without pain or suffering. Animal rights is a social movement that defies the traditional views of society which states that nonhuman animals solely exist to be used by humans for their selfish gain. Ingrid Newkirk, founder of PETA, put it like this, “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”.
Animal rights should not be confused with animal welfare, as they are visibly different. Animal rights are of the belief that humans don’t possess the right to use animals for selfish personal purpose, while animal welfare explains that these animals can be used for all these purposes so far they are treated humanely. The animal rights movement is not in support of this, as their issue is not with how well the animals are treated but that they should not be made use of at all for our own purposes.
The history of animal testing dates as far as writings of the Ancient Greeks in the 3rd and 4th centuries, with Aristotle (384–322 BCE) and Erasistratus (304–258 BCE), being one of the first to perform animal experiments (Cohen and Loew 1984).
Testing in psychology dates as far back as 1890s. Animal testing, also referred to as animal experimentation or in vivo testing refers to the experimental use of non-human animals where the variables are controlled in order to affect the behaviour or biological system of the animal under study. Non-human animals refer to animals that have some characteristic similarities with humans. The use of non-human animals is done on the premise that they have been observed to register pain, compassion, memory and other cognitive functions.
These animals may be rats, dogs, cats, rodents, etc. Psychological research is carried out for the purpose of understanding human behaviour and the way the mind works. This entails studying non-human animals for the purpose of research through observation and experiments. Psychological testing is more interested in seeing the effects of alterations on animal brain structure on behaviour, or on the use of conditioning to see visible character/ behavioural changes.
The use of animals for these experiments is due to the realization that the brains of experimental animals serve as a model for the human brain, not that it is the brain of a human, and that the basic principles of brain anatomy are similar through mammalian species. Animals have their own specialities that enable it to fit into its unique ecological role; but common ancestry results in structural (e.g., brain) and functional (e.g., memory) processes that are remarkably similar between humans and nonhumans which make them appropriate/ suitable for experimentation. In psychology, animals are commonly used as models for the human mind and behaviour, particularly for human conditions involving psychiatric disorders and neurological diseases.
Animals are also used to treat phobias; snakes may be used to treat an individual who has a phobia for snakes using in-vivo desensitization.
For example, psychopharmacology makes use of certain psychoactive drugs or techniques on animals to see if application of these drugs or techniques caused a change. Animal testing in psychology also aims to see the changes in behaviour as a result of destruction of a brain part. Behaviourists such as Pavlov and Skinner made use of such experiments to condition behaviour. Psychopharmacologists look at the effects of certain drugs on brain functions. Examples of these experimental procedures include electric shocks, drug injections, food deprivation, maternal separation, and manipulating brain functions to determine the effects on sensory and cognitive abilities as well as behaviour (Kimmel, 2007).
Psychologists have investigated the effects of deliberately induced stress, such as that arising from social isolation, either by solitary confinement or by separation of infant animals from their mother. Animals are also subjected to deliberate brain damage, in order to observe the effects on behaviour. Electric shocks or other painful stimuli are often used to study the process of learning whilst many psychologists investigate the effects of already known drugs on the \"normal\" or stress-induced behaviour of laboratory animals.
Roger W. Sperry conducted one of such animal experiments making use of monkeys. He found that the nerves connecting the left and right hemispheres of the brain could be severed without causing any drastic changes in the monkeys; each side of the brain was still able to learn, however, what was learned by one side could no longer be retrieved by the other. Sperry’s (1968) initial split brain studies on animals lead to better understanding of epilepsy, while electrodes placed inside animal brains have helped to understand biological basis of behaviour in human beings e.g. how pleasure is produced by stimulating certain areas of hypothalamus in the brain.
Psychologist, Dr. Harlow (1965) experimented on monkeys to show effects of social isolation. Skinner (1947) worked with pigeons to study superstition, while Pavlov (1980) used dogs to investigate operant conditioning.
American Psychological Association specified certain ethical conduct guidelines for the use of non-human animals in experimentation. They are;
- Justification of the research: The purpose of the research should be purely scientific, it should be potentially significant, and be able to search for alternatives that can be used in place of animals. The advancement must outweigh the harm experienced by the animal.
- Personnel: Individuals conducting these experiments should be educated and made aware of these guidelines, and must also have adequate information on caring for, use and etc. of these animals.
- Care and housing of lab animals: The housing facilities should meet/ exceed the standard. The animals should be treated humanely and with utter care. The animals conditions should be checked by IACUC to make sure it is appropriate.
- Acquisition of lab animals: Psychologists should make every effort to ensure that those responsible for transporting the nonhuman animals to the facility provide adequate food, water, ventilation, space, and impose no unnecessary stress on the animals. Endangered species should be left alone, and laws guarding animals and their capture should be respected. Purpose bred animals are better used than animals sourced from the wild.
If we say that it is unlawful and immoral and unethical to put humans in danger at the expense of research purposes, then it is also immoral, and unethical and unlawful to subject animals to that same treatment on the bases that they are lower level creations. Belief that they are different is to support speciesism, a prejudice on animals on the basis that they are not of the higher animal specie as man is. Since involuntary human experimentation is universally condemned regardless of its scientific value and animals are incapable of giving voluntary consent to an experiment, animal experimentation should also be condemned.
Critics of animal rights argue that nonhuman animals are unable to enter into a social contract, and thus cannot be possessors of rights, a view summed up by the philosopher Roger Scruton, who writes that only humans have duties, and therefore only humans have rights (Scruton, 1998).
Performing unnecessary experiments or demonstrations upon animals that cause them substantial pain or distress may be viewed as animal cruelty. This refers to the infliction by omission (animal neglect) or by commission by humans of harm or suffering upon any non-human. It is the causing of harm to animals for personal purposes/ specific achievements such as research.
The animal rights movement is in no support of any form of harming of animals, whether it be for food or for advancing the world of research, be it medical or psychological. The animal welfare movement on the other hand holds that there is nothing inherently wrong with using animals for human purposes, such as food, clothing, entertainment, and research, so far it is done in a way that minimizes unnecessary pain and suffering, or are given humane treatment. These 2 movements are in constant conflict due to their opposing beliefs on animals, and the use of them.
Animal rights organizations - such as PETA and BUAV - question the need for and legitimacy of animal testing, arguing that it is cruel and poorly regulated, that medical progress is actually held back by misleading animal models that cannot reliably predict effects in humans, that some of the tests are outdated, that the costs outweigh the benefits, or that animals have the intrinsic right not to be used or harmed in experimentation.
Pew Research Center poll have found that 52 percent of U.S. adults oppose the use of animals in scientific research, and other surveys suggest that the shrinking group that does accept animal experimentation does so only because it believes it to be necessary for medical progress. The reality is that the majority of animal experiments do not contribute to improving human health, and the value of the role that animal experimentation plays in most medical advances is questionable.
The use of animals for research to propagate the medical and psychological field is more than necessary. To do away with this is to do away with advancements in the world of science. Numerous problems shall be left unsolved, and questions left unanswered as most psychological solutions need to be tested in order to make sure that they provide adequate response before being used on humans so as to prevent harm for humans.
Though I do not fully believe in animal rights and that animals should not be used for food or research purposes, I do believe in their welfare, even as they are being used for these purposes. That is to say that I believe in the animal welfare movement which explains that animals can be used for these purposes as long as they are properly cared for. This can be expressed in having purpose-bred animals i.e the animals are bred for research purposes. This will help in curbing the endangering of species, and reducing the extinction of said animals.
Animals should not be cruelly treated, either domestically or for/during research processes, and even as they are used to produce food, because they are as equally important, and without them, several things will be left hypotheses which cannot be tested upon.
Also, such animal experiments should be carried out only if necessary. There are certain things that need not be tested out or experimented to confirm, as was the case of several experiments done before. An example is the attachment experiment. Obviously, if one were to be taken away from its mother at an age of nurturing, such individual would have troubles forming relationships etc. Obvious things should not be tested, and this way, animals do not have to unnecessarily lose their lives.
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