Animal Rights Follow-Up

Original Article

Like Jason Steorts, I am not sure where Matthew Scully and I disagree about the proper approach to animal rights. In my book, I criticized Scully for being overly emotional and anthropomorphic in his advocacy, and disagreed with his accusation made in Dominionthat research scientists have “lost all regard for their subjects,” reducing “laboratory animals to the level of microbes or cell cultures one need not even treat as living, feeling beings at all,” a provocative claim that is not true of any legitimate research scientist. I also contended that Scully failed in Dominion to properly consider the tremendous good humans receive from animals — an issue he pointedly ignored in his review of A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy.

But I also complimented Scully in my book for demonstrating that one can support a radical approach to animal protection based on human duty. Thus on page 244, I wrote, “Dominion proves, if nothing else, that a ‘rights’ approach is unnecessary for supporting the most stringent prohibitions on the human use of animals.”

Scully seems furious with me for defending animal uses he loathes, most particularly the culling of elephant herds in the African parks. He also seems quite put out that I actually gave a fur trapper the opportunity to defend his means of earning a living. He claims that I don’t take specific stands on banning certain animal practices. But that wasn’t the point of my book. Still, I make it abundantly clear that I support proper laws against abuse and ensuring proper methods of husbandry. For example, I specifically supported the “Three Rs” in the life sciences — refinement, reduction, and replacement — which is a program that strives to reduce the numbers and uses of animals in research. I castigated Michael Vick, not only for abusing dogs, but also for debasing his own humanity in the way he tortured them. With regard to that case, I criticized a World Net Daily writer who claimed that the dogs were his property, and thus, he was free to do as he wished with them, writing that such a purely market-based approach would “permit people to torture puppies for pleasure and starve horses to death if they failed to win a race.” I supported increased research into humane slaughter — focusing at some length on the laudatory work of Prof. Temple Grandin with cattle. Indeed, I didn’t even support industrial farming, but rather noted that there were conflicting values at stake in the issue, inexpensive, nutritious food versus the treatment of the animals, writing that working out the proper balance, “requires extensive research and empirical analysis — not the hyper emotionalism of animal rights activists — so that the benefit to humans and alleged harm to animals can be assessed and balanced.”

What I do believe in, and stated so repeatedly, is a proper animal-welfare approach to deciding these issues. That isn’t enough for Scully. He is quite overwrought about the entire issue. My great sin, it seems, was that I didn’t rail against most uses of animals. Assuming proper standards of care, I just don’t see it that way, and perhaps therein lies the rub.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow in human rights and bioethics at the Discovery Institute.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.