30 December 2004

Gary L. Francione on Animal Property

Although animal rights may be a remote goal in a nation that still disregards the rights of the poor, of women, of people of color, and of children and the elderly, there can be little, if any, doubt that conventional morality strongly proscribes the infliction of any “unnecessary” pain on animals and imposes an obligation of [sic] all humans to treat nonhumans “humanely.” Despite ubiquitous agreement on these points, there is also widespread acknowledgment that animal abuse does continue unabated in our society. What accounts for this ostensible irony is that animals do not have rights under the law. There are, of course, many laws on the federal and state levels that purport to protect animals from “inhumane” treatment, but these laws do not really confer rights in the sense that we usually use that term. Indeed, the vast majority of these laws do not even prohibit certain types of conduct that adversely affects animals. To the extent that the law does contain any types of prohibitions, such as the illegality of dogfighting or cockfighting, these prohibitions are usually more concerned with class issues or other moral issues than with animal protection. Similarly, aggressive efforts by police to prohibit the use of animals in religious “sacrifices” may have more to do with racist attitudes about the religion involved than with concern about animals. Both dogfighting and cockfighting are activities that are ostensibly more common among members of disempowered minority communities. Although these prohibitions also appear to be related to a general social disapproval of gambling, other animal wagering activities (e.g., horseracing) are more common among the middle and upper classes; indeed, several such events, such as the Kentucky Derby, are quite celebrated. Prohibitions (e.g., no animal can be used in burn experiments) may imply that there are some interests possessed by the animal that may not be traded away simply because of consequential considerations (e.g., the animal has an interest in not being used in burn experiments even where it can be plausibly argued that humans will benefit). Animals are the property of people, and property owners usually react rather strongly against any measure that threatens their autonomy concerning the use of their property.

(Gary L. Francione, Animals, Property, and the Law, Ethics and Action, ed. Tom Regan [Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995], 17-8 [italics in original; endnote omitted])

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