Not special

Margaret Somerville doesn’t think animals are persons.

While I strongly endorse their goal of preventing cruelty to all sentient creatures and believe that we humans have obligations to protect them, I don’t agree with trying to achieve this by making animals persons.

My reasons for this include that it would undermine the idea that humans are “special” relative to other animals and, therefore, deserve “special respect.”

Whether humans are “special” is a controversial and central question in bioethics, and how we answer it will have a major impact on what we view as ethical or unethical with regard to our treatment of humans and of animals.

Currently, we use the word “person” as a synonym for human. This communicates the concept that humans are different from other animals. It can no longer fulfill that function if it does not refer exclusively to humans. In other words, if animals become persons, human persons become animals. The line between humans and other animals is blurred and the idea that humans deserve “special respect” is eliminated.

That means that what we do or don’t do to “animal persons” should be the same as we do or don’t do to “human persons.” For instance, if we have euthanasia for animals, we should, likewise, have it for humans. If we don’t eat humans, we shouldn’t eat animals.


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