Remember: Pets aren't people
Right or Wrong?
If you live in West Hollywood and go home on break, be nice to that dog you used to own. The City Council has decreed that you are no longer a "pet owner" but a "pet guardian." It's the latest ordinance," said the L.A. Daily News, "from a city ... in the vanguard of liberal causes, from homosexual rights to condom distribution to animal cruelty laws."
"The resolution," according to Mayor Jeffrey Prang, "has a symbolic purpose" as a reminder that animals have rights.
Questions arise. Can a "guardian" sterilize his or her "ward" without that ward's consent? A new breed of "doggie lawyers" can be counted on to make something and contingent fees out of that. Harvard last year started the nation's first law school course in Animal Rights Law. Princeton's Peter Singer, the father (sorry, parent) of the animal rights movement, attacks "speciesism," which is prejudice against persons of another species. He defines a person as "a rational and self-conscious being." Singer regards "newborn infants and some mental defectives" as nonpersons. But chimpanzees, dolphins, dogs, cats, bears and even chickens can make the personhood cut. For Singer, "killing ... a chimpanzee is worse than the killing of a ... defective human who is not a person."
Thus he concludes that "parents of severely disabled babies ... should be allowed to kill a child whose prospects for a minimally decent life are very poor."
The animal rights movement has a lighter side. Flughund, a German "canine travel agency," specializes in dream vacations for pets, including doggie cinemas (Lassie films are the big favorite), dog restaurants and massage parlors. "People would be surprised," said Flughund's director, "at the range of dog-related holidays ... around the world."
Let's look at some basics. We know from reason that humans have a spiritual soul because we can engage in the spiritual activities of abstraction and reflection. The nature of a spiritual being is that it will not die, since death is the breaking up of a thing into its parts and a spiritual entity has no parts. Therefore we are immortal. Dogs, other animals and plants have souls because the soul is the life principle of something that is alive. The soul of a dog, however, is material. This means that the animal soul is dependent for its existence on the matter of which it is the life principle. We know by observation that animals have no spiritual intellect. They cannot form abstract ideas or reflect on themselves. Have you ever seen a bird on a tree branch scrutinizing a set of plans? Birds build nests according to the instincts programmed into them by their designer, i.e., God.
In the nature of things and in God's design, animals themselves have no rights. We can own animals because they are things and not persons. As Thomas Aquinas noted, "The rational plan of divine providence demands that the other creatures be ruled by rational creatures." "[T]he order of things," said Aquinas, "is such that the imperfect are for the perfect. ... [I]t is lawful both to take life from plants for the use of animals, and from animals for the use of man." Vatican II described "man" as "the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake."
"Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from ... moral imperatives. ... [S]cientific experimentation on animals, if ... reasonable ... is ... morally acceptable. ... It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is ... unworthy to spend money on them that should ... go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons." (Catechism)
In short, man owes a duty to God to make reasonable use of animals. The animal rights movement, instead, in Singer's words, treats "ethics as entirely independent of religion" and rejects "the idea that human beings are a special form of creation, made in the image of God ... and ... possessing an immortal soul." Our elites foster a culture that rejects God and therefore views man as nothing special. The implicit legitimization in our law of euthanasia of some patients by "terminal sedation" validates a process that is really no different from putting a dog to sleep.
"When the sense of God is lost," said John Paul, "there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life." (Evangelium Vitae)
Every culture has to have a god. Ours rejects the real God and deifies material nature, inanimate as well as animate. It is a new, but old, pagan religion. As an ideology, it tends to apply its principle with rigorous logic. In England the Animal Liberation Front has gone to war in defense of fish and cockroaches. This recently came to light when letter bombs packed with nails exploded in a fish-and-chip shop and in the offices of a pest-control firm.
So when you go home, be nice to Rex, or whatever your "ward" calls himself. He has friends. And if you are nice to him maybe he will take you along on his next vacation to Maui.
Professor Rice is on the Law School faculty. His column usually appears every other Tuesday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Monday, March 19, 2001