Just like Michael Jackson and his pet monkey Bubbles, Justin Bieber and his little monkey friend named Mally are inseparable. Last week, unfortunately, Mally was seized by German customs and put into quarantine, after the celebrity sneaked him into Europe on a private jet from Canada without proper health documentation. But who suffered most? Bieber or the monkey? As most ‘JB’ fans are fourteen years old, I am now fourteen years too old to care deeply about Bieber’s emotional suffering which resulted from the temporary separation of the two. So, for now, let us focus on the monkey.
But first, why should I care about the animal? In general, there are two common ethical grounds which can serve as the foundation for awarding moral status to animals. The most well-known can be ascribed to Peter Singer, who revived Jeremy Bentham’s famous footnote in 1789: ‘the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?’ It is because animals have the ability to feel pain, that they should be a part of our moral space. An alternative to this utilitarian moral theory is to establish that, since animals are the experiencing subjects of their own lives, they have intrinsic value, and thus deserve our respect.
Now, what should we do with this information? If we accept these moral grounds to be guiding in our dealings with animals, how do we establish correct human behaviour towards animals?
The Swiss Tierschutzverordnung describes the protection of animals most precisely. For instance, as social animals, horses and goats are not allowed to be kept alone. Also, llamas and pigs must be kept at least in pairs. A goldfish may not live in an aquarium with all sides transparent – one side must be darkened, and dog owners must prove their dog owning abilities prior to obtaining a canine friend. The Netherlands has not (yet) reached this stage, but it has adopted a new animal law which specifies animal welfare requirements, as well changing the status of animals from ‘object’ to ‘not an object' (art. 3:2a BW).This new law and legal status do point towards a commitment to improving animal welfare.
There is a difference between animal welfare and animal rights. And, although these two issues are often taken together, there is a fundamental difference between these two ideologies. Proponents of animal welfare argue in favour of improving the lives of animals, and focus on human duties with regard to the wellbeing of animals. Advocates of animal rights, on the other hand, argue that there are no relevant distinctions between humans and animals (or, ‘human’ and ‘non-human’ animals), and oppose any use of animals by humans. This latter position would greatly benefit from granting animals constitutional rights, as it, for example, enables animal representatives to include the interests of animals when making laws, and provides better ammunition for those advocating for animal well-being in court.
To recap, Mally can experience pain, and therefore humans should focus on minimizing his pain. Secondly, he is a subject of his own life, and is thus entitled to respect and may not be used for human needs. Obviously, Justin Bieber failed miserably at both. Not only did he fail to present the proper paperwork for Mally which led to his solitary confinement - which in no way resembles the surroundings of the Amazon river where Capuchin monkeys are supposed to live – he probably made his monkey friend listen to his music, too. When did Mally suffer most?
The discussion on how to protect animals best, whether through moral and/or legal duties, or constitutional rights, is ongoing. Interested? Join the debate on Tuesday, April 9th, in Arminius, Rotterdam.