Reverence for Life and Animal Rights
As I examine Schweitzers ethic reverence for life and apply it to different issues I find out there are many difficulties, or problems, to sift through. The more I delve into this, the more I find myself in a state of mental unrest. Schweitzer often wrote about rational thinking, but there are many questions appearing in my mind and I have not found simple answers. In looking back at Chapter 26 in The Philosophy of Civilization, I notice Schweitzer opens by stating, "Complicated and laborious are the roads along which ethical thought, which has mistaken its way and taken too high a flight, must be brought back" (Schweitzer, 307). Then, he states, "To become ethical means to begin to think sincerely" (Schweitzer, 308). So, with this I will attempt to keep ethical thought to "its right direction" (Schweitzer, 307) as much as I am able.
First of all, I have chosen to narrow the focus of this paper in order to examine Schweitzers concepts of reverence for life and how they can apply to animal rights. While studying a well-known animal rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), I found many different areas to be interesting or controversial in relation to some of the ethical ideas we have been pondering, such as animal experimentation, and the place animals hold in our lives. Generally, animals have been in the service of humans without receiving much appreciation for how they make our lives more comfortable. For instance, we consume animals and animal products, we use them for clothing, we enjoy them as companions, and as our protectors. Some individuals even view certain animals and specific breeds as symbols of status. Animals are often seen as objects for sports, entertainment, and business, as in competitive racing, hunting, riding and breeding. Within this reality there are vast differences of opinion as to what constitutes respectfulness to animals. PETA is one of the first groups to raise awareness of the concept of animal rights, and what it means.
Founded in 1980, PETA is an international non-profit organization based in Norfolk, VA which educates policymakers and the public about animal abuse and promotes an understanding of the right of animals to be treated with respect. With over six hundred thousand members, it is the largest animal rights organization in the world. Efforts made by this organization have resulted in closure of a U.S. horse slaughterhouse, closure of a military laboratory in which animals were shot, and stopping the use of cats and dogs in all wound laboratories. In addition to this, PETA is a group which places a strong emphasis on activism which has been effective in making policy changes regarding animal rights.
As I began researching the issue of animal rights, the first question I found myself asking is whether or not animals should have rights. This is the most obvious question and, in my opinion, the easiest to answer. When one upholds reverence for life, it seems that respect for all of life is necessary, and this includes animals. According to Schweitzer, this is the basic principle of the ethic reverence for life. Simply stated, it is good to encourage life; it is bad to destroy life. Moreover, a person is most ethical only when one honors the principle to support all life, and to avoid injuring life. Following this, with the reverence for life ethic, one does not ask oneself "how valuable" is this life or that life. Instead, one should consider all of life sacred. In this regard, I believe that animal rights groups, such as PETA, are carrying out the "compulsion" (Schweitzer, 309) of ethical decision in reverence for life.
In Philosophy, Schweitzer said if one sees an earthworm on the road after a rain, one should pick it up and place it on the grass so it can live (Schweitzer, 310). If reverence for life applies to any living thing, it encompasses our whole environment. It means unlimited responsibility. In the area of animal rights, Schweitzer maintained that one must ask the question of whether or not an animal needs to be injured in order to create a greater good. In reference to scientific experimentation, Schweitzer wrote, "How much wrong is committed in scientific institutions through neglect of anesthetics, which to save time or trouble are not administered?" (Schweitzer, 318). Then, he continued with "How much (pain is inflicted) through animals being subjected to torture merely to demonstrate to students generally known phenomena?" (Schweitzer, 318). Clearly, animal experimentation was an issue about which Schweitzer held some very strong and definite opinions. In situations which concern animals, Schweitzer stated that the question of necessity is the pivotal point in the relations between man and the animal world, and that this question of necessity (Schweitzer, 318) must be applied case by case.
On the web page for PETA, there is a plea stating, "Please join us and help us continue to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves." This appeal suggests the idea of ethical responsibility humans should hold regarding animals. It seems that Schweitzer would agree. According to his sentiments on page 319 of Philosophy, Schweitzer said that if we are aware of animal suffering, we should not act "idly" as though it is not our concern. But Schweitzer does not say that we should go and picket in front of a laboratory to stop it. Instead, he says we should recognize our indebtedness to animals. Schweitzer maintains that we need to recognize that a special relationship exists between animals and humans because of the sacrifice of animals which is made for human benefit.
On the other hand, some active members of PETA might consider it right and proper to go "underground" in order to investigate the practices of a particular laboratory in order to expose cruelty to animals. PETA operates under the belief that "animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment." According to its mission statement, PETA focuses its attention on four areas in which "the largest numbers of animals suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time: on factory farms, in laboratories, in the fur trade, and in the entertainment industry." Then, PETA follows that they also "work on a variety of other issues, including the cruel killing of beavers, birds and other pests, and the abuse of backyard dogs." This organization primarily works through public education, "cruelty investigations" and research, animal rescue, legislation, special events, celebrity involvement, and direct action.
Some of the current stories listed in PETA News, the organizations publication, include updates on legal policies regarding animal testing. One of the updates discusses the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ruling on a high production volume (HPV) chemical-testing program being reversed (PETA News, May 99), which was introduced by Vice President Gore in February 1999. Another update states that the U.S. EPA has "conceded to PETA that some of the planned animal tests were not necessary. PETA has relentlessly protested the HPV program through meetings with the EPA and Congress and through grassroots efforts" (April 99). So, it is apparent that this group has a foundation which upholds appreciation or reverence for life. In seeing to it that some of the unnecessary testing is stopped, PETA is echoing some of Schweitzers thoughts on the importance of questioning necessity. However, there are ethical challenges in the application of reverence for life, and there is a lot of room for agreement and dissension.
For example, in Philosophy, Schweitzer stated "while animals have to endure intolerable treatment from heartless men, or are left to the cruel play of children, we all share the guilt" (Schweitzer, 319). Schweitzer didnt tell us what to do or not to do to change any of it. He doesnt state that no one should eat meat, no one should own pets, farmers should plow their own land without the use of animals, or anything like this. Again, Schweitzer leaves it up to us to decide, but emphasizes the importance of viewing each situation independently. While PETA says we shouldnt use animals for experimentation, they neglect to mention that many people have benefited from animal testing, and some of it was considered very necessary practice. Many scientists claim that a lot of the progress medicine has made to date would have been severely impeded if not for the existence of medical testing. In fact, one interesting point to mention is that Linda McCartney, a well-known spokesperson for PETA, campaigned for years against the use of animals in medical experiments. She stated that animal experiments dont lead to reliable treatments for human diseases. However, when McCartney was diagnosed with breast cancer, she received chemotherapy a medical treatment which was tested extensively on animals before ever being used on human beings.
According to an article "Animal Rights Not Such a Good Idea," writer Brian Carnell quoted PETA president Ingrid Newkirk as saying "wed be against it," regarding using animal experimentation to find a cure for AIDS. The hard fact remaining is that without animal research, life-saving treatments and vaccines for many illnesses would not exist, including treatments for diabetes and polio. Many of us have benefited without even realizing it. Most medical treatments in the United States are not used for human beings until they are first tested extensively on animals, and all drugs must be tested on animals first. How many of us have even thought of this when receiving medical treatments?
Clearly, animal rights issues are just as complicated in application to reverence for life as all other issues, and it only becomes more complex. In a March 99 issue of Vaccine Weekly an article, entitled "Protestors Up in Arms Over Experiments that Give Chimps HIV," begins with a question, "Does the prospect of developing an effective HIV vaccine justify condemning chimpanzees to death? Thats the stark question dividing biomedical researchers in the U.S., now that virologists know that some strains of HIV cause the same fatal illness in chimps as they do in people." At least in this situation it appears that someone is addressing ethical concerns. In the publication Science, September 98, an article titled "Strict Rules for Indian Scientists" discusses proposed rules to create a government-run system to regulate research using animals which has triggered a debate in India. These new proposals, which were set to go into effect starting in October 98, were drafted by the chair of a committee, Maneka Gandhi, who is an animal rights activist and a social justice minister. However, research groups are trying to stop the rules from going into effect by "arguing that they are extreme and threaten valuable research."
In all of this, a point can be made for and against animal experimentation. If using animal experimentation means that our family members can be cured of their illnesses, or at least achieve improvements in quality of life, then an argument in favor of animal experimentation can be made. On the other hand, there is incredible waste in the field of animal experimentation, and I believe it comes from a basic desensitization which occurs when action precedes thought. It should not be made easy for someone to take a life. Yet, I am a person who wants the benefits of medicine without the guilt of what animals have had to sacrifice for us. Still, I acknowledge feelings of guilt. I would not want a job as a lab researcher. I prefer to take simple steps in my everyday life to begin upholding reverence for life, which I have just recently begun to put into effect.
For instance, a couple of weeks ago, after seeing the video "Ahimsa," I became a vegetarian. I do not know if I will be able to remain a vegetarian for long unless I remain attached to what I felt and learned from watching the video. For many years, I have consumed animal products and often thought of where they came from and it bothered me, but I would just put these ugly thoughts out of my mind. In the past, I have tried to make changes in my eating habits, but the changes were only temporary. Today, however, I have a newfound sense of purpose. While I may not be able to effect change in laboratory laws right now, I am able to effect change in my immediate actions which now uphold values reflective of reverence for life. I do not remember any reading thus far in which Schweitzer comments on vegetarianism, but his ideas have offered me some direction in which I can take responsibility for my own action toward reverence for life. For my life, vegetarianism seems like a logical way to start with this ethic. After all, before I can picket in front of a lab for its exceedingly cruel practices, I must remove cruelty in my own actions, and this means not using cosmetics which include products made from animals, or consumption of animal products.
Last, organizations like PETA are evidence of society reflecting on itself and wanting to make changes. Though some of the organizations practices are considered radical by some, I see these practices to be extremely committed. It is also true that sometimes their position in relation to the politics of animal rights seems to be unclear, but this is true of all kinds of organizations made up of people with differing opinions. I am relieved that there are organizations like PETA which make it their business to keep tabs on hidden agencies and what they are doing. If we consider animals to be our "pets" and treat them badly, what does this say about our values about life? If we kill other creatures with needless testing, it only shows a great lack of respect for life that can spill over into other areas of life, too. Schweitzer said the ethics of reverence for life "guard us from letting each other believe through our silence that we no longer experience what, as thinking men, we must experience. They prompt us to keep each other sensitive . . . They make us join in keeping on the look-out for opportunities of bringing some sort of help to animals, to make up for the great misery which men inflict on them . . ." (Schweitzer, 319).
In conclusion, the idea of unnecessary suffering is the foundation of contemporary animal welfare. If suffering in the laboratory is considered to be necessary, then animal experimentation is justified. If animals were anaesthetized before a procedure takes place then the ethical problems could be minimized; or if animals were provided with adequate pain relief before regaining consciousness. But many procedures involve inflicting pain on conscious animals. This is unnecessary if alternative methods can be found, if the results are already available (some testing is often repeated needlessly), or if the research is badly designed so that "no meaningful conclusions are likely to result from it" (Chemistry and Industry, Jan 99). A great deal of modern animal research is concerned with finding remedies for diseases that are sometimes preventable, such as heart disease. Advocating a reduction in animal experimentation does not have to be accompanied by an acceptance of the view that animals possess rights. But, at the very least, we ought to treat other species with respect, and this means thinking long and hard before we harm them for our benefit. We are not so separate from other living beings, as Schweitzer tells us with the ethic reverence for life.
|Generally, animals have been in the service of humans without receiving much appreciation for how they make our lives more comfortable.|
|When one upholds reverence for life, it seems that respect for all of life is necessary, and this includes animals.|
|animal experimentation was an issue about which Schweitzer held some very strong and definite opinions.|
|PETA is echoing some of Schweitzers thoughts on the importance of questioning necessity.|
|Clearly, animal rights issues are just as complicated in application to reverence for life as all other issues|
|It should not be made easy for someone to take away life.|
|the idea of unnecessary suffering is the foundation of contemporary animal welfare.|
|We are not so separate from other living beings, as Schweitzer tells us with the ethic reverence for life.|