Non-Human Animal Suffering

No I am not a member of PETA, nor have I ever owned a pet. But a friend recently asked me to comment on an NPR article, “Ape Dread, Dog Worry: Animals And Anxiety,” about non-human animal suffering during medical experimentation.1

I have encountered this topic while teaching applied ethics courses and have adopted the utilitarian position that if animals suffer, they are worthy of moral consideration. Yet even on utilitarian grounds non-human animal suffering is justified if such suffering increases the net utility–roughly if it brings about more good/happiness than bad/unhappiness. For utilitarians the ends justify the means.

Still there needs to be strong justifications for imposing suffering on non-human animals. Our enjoyment of eating their flesh would not qualify, nor do many medical experiments; and I am not sympathetic with arguments that the suffering of thousands of non-human animals are worth a single human animal life. This probably does not follow given that non-human animals differ from us in degree, not in kind.

The arguments in the article about the psychological suffering of non-human animals are convincing. Combined with the fact that we are deeply connected biologically with all life–we share about 98% of our genes with chimpanzees and about 90% with cats–the argument that non-human animals receive strong moral consideration is overwhelming. Since we share common ancestors with all of life, respect for all life is respect for part of ourselves.

As  a consequence of these considerations we should further extend our moral sphere to the biosphere and eventually to the entire cosmos. Yes, we are literally animated star stuff; thus to care for the stars is to care for ourselves too.

1. http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2014/02/20/279661986/ape-dread-dog-worry-animals-and-anxiety utm_content=socialflow&utm_campaign=nprfacebook&utm_source=npr&utm_medium=facebook

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