Saturday, September 26, 2009

What’s wrong with animal rights

What’s wrong with animal rights

Clyde’s face was covered with tears as he watched the neighborhood gardener digging a small hole in their backyard. The boy was gently cradling in his hands his pet hamster , Lilpigmy, which unexpectedly died.

"It's okay, Clyde," his father comforted him. "We'll buy you another one."

"But Lilpigmy was really cute ‘n' smat [SOB, SOB, SNIFFLE]. I don't shink [SNIFF] we'll find anosher one like him," he said having difficulty talking without his newly pulled out front teeth.

"Don't worry," I said, "you can always train a new one to behave like Lilpigmy." I was amused to learn later that the name was short for 'My Little Pig.'

"You can now put him in the hole," the gardener said. Clyde slowly lowered the rodent and said, "Don't coveh it till aftuh I close my eyes."

He gave it a long last look and then covered his eyes with his small hands. The gardener couldn't help but smile at this child's simplicity. With one sweep of his huge palm, the animal disappeared beneath the ground.

* * *

All of us, at one time or another, have gone through Clyde's experience of having to part ways with a beloved pet dog, cat or goldfish. I also recall how teary-eyed I was as I slowly dug a “grave” for my two pet dachshunds that unexpectedly succumbed to heartworm. I solemnly marked the grim spot with flowers and a decent piece of cardboard with their names on it.

Today, however, some people are treating animals in a rather special way. They claim that animals have "rights" like people and therefore must be protected and respected even to the extreme that livestock and poultry should not be killed for man's basic consumption.

But do animals have rights at all? If ever, to what extent can we understand such “rights”? Are they the same as the rights we humans have?

Fr. Joseph de Torre, in his book on Christian Philosophy, says that the ultimate basis of rights is not subjective, that is, originating from the person himself. Neither are they based on an obligation towards him.

Rights are founded on an external good or end which is given to the person as a gift. And our true good and perfection consists in reaching the end intended for us by God's Fatherly design. Thus, our rights are only rights insofar as they are oriented towards this right end or good.

Moreover, he emphasizes that the "most important thing to note is that every right is a right to something good, since right is based on duty, duty is based on need, and need is ordained to the good or perfection of being. This excludes the so-called ‘right to die’ of euthanasia or suicide. And no one has the ‘obligation’ to do anything bad."

De Torre thus concludes: "Every human being has certain natural rights emanating from his due ordination to the good. No one can remove them from him or her (‘inalienable’), and he or she has them from the very moment of his or her conception (i.e. the right to life, to education, to use the means to reach God, to choose one's state in life, to work, to possess material goods, to reputation, to associate oneself with others, to be told the truth, etc)" (Joseph M. de Torre, Christian Philosophy, Vera-Reyes Inc., p. 265).

On this same idea, Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection.... Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God's infinite wisdom and goodness. Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things which would be in contempt of the Creator and would bring disastrous consequences for human beings and their environment” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 339).

God made man the administrator of creation. Because man is the only creature who has the God-given gifts of intellect and will which allow him to perceive something higher than his material existence. He is to "subdue created things" not in the sense of abusing and exhausting them, but to respect their natural states of perfection to serve God and other men” (cf. Catechism, no. 377).

This natural state of good is the right that the rest of creatures possess. Man cannot change this condition, but he can raise a creature's natural state to an even higher form. A tree, for example, that is used to make furniture or a house or when animals are reasonably used for experimentation allows these creatures to give more glory to God and good for man.

Therefore, to clamor for "rights" that are not within the confines of the divinely instituted perfections of creatures would only be a disorder on the part of man. This occurs when he makes use of means (e.g. protesting by posing naked in public) that only strips the person of his own inviolable natural human rights (i.e. intimacy, privacy and personal integrity).

The ends never justify means that are only degrading of man's sacred identity as God's most valued creature. What is worse is that such unreasonable “signs of protests” make the person less than the very creatures he claims to protect when he lowers himself to a point that even animals cannot themselves achieve, that is, to go against what God preordained them for. Sadly, only man can turn against his own dignity and integrity.

* * *

Back at the house, I asked Clyde's father, "So Ed, how did you say the hamster died?"

"Oh, Father, it's quite simple. Clyde overfed the little rodent!"

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