Treating animals better than humans
I have sent two requests to PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, asking what their organization's position is on the Terri Schindler Schiavo case and have received no reply. That may be an answer in and of itself. [A response from PETA was received on March 30, 2005. Please see updates.]
It's doubtful to me that, were Terri Schindler Schiavo an animal, PETA would allow her death by starvation and dehydration. However, the following selected and appropriate information was obtained from the organization's web site (italics added are my emphasis):
“What do you mean by ‘animal rights’?”
People who support animal rights believe that animals are not ours to use for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, or any other purpose and that animals deserve consideration of their best interests regardless of whether they are cute, useful to humans, or endangered and regardless of whether any human cares about them at all (just as a mentally challenged human has rights even if he or she is not cute or useful and even if everyone dislikes him or her)
“What rights should animals have?”
Animals should have the right to equal consideration of their interests. For instance, a dog most certainly has an interest in not having pain inflicted on him or her unnecessarily. We are, therefore, obliged to take that interest into consideration and to respect the dog’s right not to have pain unnecessarily inflicted upon him or her. However, animals don’t always have the same rights as humans because their interests are not always the same as ours, and some rights would be irrelevant to animals. For instance, a dog doesn’t have an interest in voting and, therefore, doesn’t have the right to vote because that right would be as meaningless to a dog as it is to a child.
“Where do you draw the line?”
The renowned humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, who accomplished so much for both humans and animals in his lifetime, would take time to stoop and move a worm from hot pavement to cool earth. Aware of the problems and responsibilities that an expanded ethic brings, he said, “A man is really ethical only when he obeys the constraint laid on him to aid all life which he is able to help .… He does not ask how far this or that life deserves sympathy … nor how far it is capable of feeling.” We can’t stop all suffering, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stop any. In today’s world of virtually unlimited choices, there are plenty of kind, gentle ways for us to feed, clothe, entertain, and educate ourselves that do not involve killing animals.
“What about plants?”
There is currently no reason to believe that plants experience pain because they are devoid of central nervous systems, nerve endings, and brains. It is theorized that animals are able to feel pain so that they can use it for self-protection purposes. For example, if you touch something hot and feel pain, you will learn from the pain that you should not touch that item in the future. Since plants cannot move from place to place and do not need to learn to avoid certain things, this sensation would be superfluous. From a physiological standpoint, plants are completely different from mammals. Unlike animals’ body parts, many perennial plants, fruits, and vegetables can be harvested over and over again without dying.
“Animals don’t reason, don’t understand rights, and don’t always respect our rights, so why should we apply our ideas of morality to them?”
An animal’s inability to understand and adhere to our rules is as irrelevant as a child’s or a person with a developmental disability’s inability to do so. Animals are not always able to choose to change their behaviors, but adult human beings have the intelligence and ability to choose between behaviors that hurt others and behaviors that do not hurt others. When given the choice, it makes sense to choose compassion.
“Where does the animal rights movement stand on abortion?”
There are people on both sides of the abortion issue in the animal rights movement, just as there are people on both sides of animal rights issues in the pro-life movement. And just as the pro-life movement has no official position on animal rights, the animal rights movement has no official position on abortion.
“How can you justify spending your time helping animals when there are so many people who need help?”
There are very serious problems in the world that deserve our attention, and cruelty to animals is one of them. We should try to alleviate suffering wherever we can. Helping animals is not any more or less important than helping human beings—they are both important. Animal suffering and human suffering are interconnected.
“Animals are not as intelligent or as advanced as humans, so why can't we use them?”
Possessing superior intelligence does not entitle one human to abuse another human, so why should it entitle humans to abuse nonhumans? There are animals who are unquestionably more intelligent, creative, aware, communicative, and able to use language than some humans, as is the case when a chimpanzee is compared to a human infant or a person with a severe developmental disability. Should the more intelligent animals have rights and the less intelligent humans be denied rights?
If society determines that Terri Schindler Schiavo should die, she is entitled to a death with dignity, free from pain and suffering. We would treat her better were she a stray dog, injured beyond our current ability to heal her.
[Update 3/30/2005: I received an email response from PETA today on its position on the Terri Schindler Schiavo case:
Thanks for your e-mail to PETA regarding Terri Shiavo.
Please know that at the very heart of the ethic that underlies and informs all of PETA's actions is the right of all beings to be secure from violation and harm, including humans, and that our hearts go out to Terri and her family. PETA employees, for instance, volunteer in soup kitchens for the homeless and answer phones at our local public TV station. Our staffers participate in local tree-plantings and street clean-ups and volunteer with children at local shelters. But please understand that our focus, as an organization, is the alleviation of the horrendous suffering inflicted on billions of non-human animals every year.
We recognize that there are very serious problems and injustices in our world that deserve our attention; cruelty to animals is one of them. We should try to alleviate suffering wherever we can, and no one organization can fight all moral and social crimes; for example, the American Heart Association fights heart disease but not cancer or any other disease. Save the Children helps starving children, but not disabled veterans.
Thank you again for your e-mail, I hope this information is helpful to you.
Manager, Member Mail Division
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals]
Nader says Terri should live. Cybercast News Service is reporting that consumer advocate and former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader has weighed in in support of Terri Schindler Schiavo.
"Terri swallows her own saliva ... Spoon-feeding is not medical treatment. This outrageous order proves that the courts are not merely permitting medical treatment to be withheld, it has ordered her to be made dead," says the CNS report, quoting Nader's statement.
Read Nader's full statement here.
No consensus whether Terri Schindler Schiavo feels pain. The Associated Press is now reporting there actually is no consensus on whether Mrs. Schiavo feels pain. Reports from the mainstream media have previously united behind the claim that Mrs. Schiavo feels no pain. However, while noting dissenting voices exist in the medical community, AP is quick to point out those physicians who disagree and say she is in pain also happen to be Christian missionaries. This must apparently discount their views to AP. No telling what the religious background is of its other sources. AP doesn't report it.
Dr. David Stevens, executive director of the Christian Medical Association in Bristol, Tenn., has worked in some of Africa's poorest nations.
He recalls watching people die of dehydration with symptoms that include thick saliva, severe cramps and dry heaving. As their mucous membranes and intestines dry out, they bleed from the mouth and nose, and begin to hallucinate.
Stevens says the quiet death that physicians often associate with dehydration comes to patients whose bodies were already shutting down from cancer or another terminal illness.
"That's a whole different thing than someone like this, whose body is in metabolic equilibrium," he said.