By Lawrence Joseph
Some may consider that in the context of Grenada, the idea of having provisions in the constitution pertaining to animal rights would be somewhat far-fetched. However, a significant number of people all over the world are of the belief that animals do have rights and that those rights must be guaranteed. Many advocates of animal rights are of the view that due regard must be paid to the fundamental interests of animals such as a right to be free from suffering; a right to be free from being used for experimental purposes and a right to be free from being killed for food. Animal rights really relate to the concept that some or all animals are entitled to their own lives and that their interests are similar to those which are claimed by humans. Some even advocate that animals are not property to be owned.
The philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, who lived about 500 BC urged respect for animals as he believed that the souls of humans were reincarnated in animals and vice versa. British philosopher John Locke of 17th century vintage held on to the premise that animals do have feelings and that unnecessary cruelty towards them was morally wrong. He felt that the mere killing of animals by children would tend to harden their minds even towards human beings. In this regard one is reminded of the casual way in which children kill lizards, frogs and birds. Oftentimes the older heads would say: “What is joke for school children is death for crapaud”.
Contrary to the positions held by the above mentioned philosophers, Aristotle, the Greek thinker, who lived about 350 BC argued that animals had no interests of their own as they lacked reason, reasoning, thought, and belief. However, despite the debate, for many centuries humans continuously expressed serious concerns over the mal-treatment of animals by their kind which mal-treatment occurred during such sporting activities as cockfighting, cock throwing, dog fighting, bull baiting, bull-running and fox hunting. As a consequence of those concerns, a number of theorists expressed varying views on the notion of animal rights.
From the early 19th century there was a shift in emphasis from mere expressions of concern for the cruelty being meted to animals to the modern-day concept which advocates the fundamental interests which are deemed to be inherent in them. Two main schools of thought emerged with each having their own various branches. One is the utilitarian approach and the other is the rights-based approach. The utilitarian approach considers that humans have the right to give whatever treatment to animals as is considered necessary for the advancement of the common good. The rights-based approach considers that any interference with the fundamental rights of animals is bad in principle and must be discouraged.
In very modern times, firm actions have been taken by various countries in order to uphold the concept of animal rights. In 2002 the German Parliament, after ten years of parliamentary debate amended their Constitution, to grant constitutional rights to its animals. It became the first country in the European Union to do so. In effect the Parliament voted to protect the national foundations of life for animals as well as for humans.
Only one week ago, on 28th of January of this year 2015, the French Parliament passed legislation after many years of debate, giving recognition to animals as “living sentient beings”. Hitherto animals were considered to be mere things to be owned as pieces of furniture.
Inasmuch as there is this ongoing review of Grenada’s Constitution, are Grenadians in a position to give consideration to the idea of making the necessary amendments to include animal rights provisions? It is rather doubtful that Grenadians at this time would take this seemingly extreme position. However this may be a good time to reflect on the way we treat animals.
Should we not dissuade our children from indiscriminately killing lizards, birds and other harmless creatures? Should our donkeys be over-laden with goods and be made to travel for many miles? Should we not recognize that our pets such as cats and dogs are living creatures and should be treated with greater care? Unnecessary cruelty must never be committed to animals.
However, following the utilitarian approach it seems rational to hold unto the belief that animals may be owned, dominated and used by humans for the benefit of the common good. Chapter 1 verse 26 in the Book of Genesis of the Holy Bible states “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, …and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good”. In the New Testament, Jesus himself partook of the seven loaves and fishes and distributed portions of same to the multitude.