Attorney at paw…. Influential professor calls for pets to have the same moral and legal rights as humans including being represented in court
- Martha Nussbaum, 75, argues that animals should be protected by law
- She says animals – from chihuahuas to tigers – should be represented by lawyers
An American philosopher and scholar has called for pets to have the same moral and legal rights as humans – including them being represented in court.
Martha Nussbaum, 75, argues that it shouldn’t just be our pets that are protected by law and a team of lawyers – but also animals across the globe from elephants to whales.
The University of Chicago professor insists that because the world is ‘dominated’ by humans – which can see pets neglected or abused and endangered species’ habitats destroyed – animals should have the same legal rights as humans.
This would see animals – from a pet chihuahua to tigers – being represented by a lawyer who would argue on their behalf so they that the animals’ and their habitats are legally protected, Nussbaum, a Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, says.
In the case of our pets, Nussbaum, whose book Justice for Animals: Our Collective Responsibility was released in January, argues that there should be lawyer who represents animals who have been attacked.
Martha Nussbaum, 75, (pictured in 2013) argues that it shouldn’t just be our pets that are protected by law and a team of lawyers – but also animals across the globe from elephants to whales
In the case of our pets, Nussbaum, whose book Justice for Animals: Our Collective Responsibility was released in January, argues that there should be lawyer who represents animals who have been attacked
‘I’m talking about lawyers who would represent the animal’s interest,’ Nussbaum told The New York Times. ‘When the animal is suffering – if you’re beating your dog and the laws aren’t being enforced, there isn’t anyone who can intervene and say, ‘I’m going to go to court as the ally of that animal and sue for enforcement of the laws’.’
In reality, this could mean that Lady Gaga’s two French bulldogs, Koji and Gustav, which were kidnapped and held for $500,000 ransom in 2021 before being released, would have been represented in court and received compensation themselves.
It would also mean that all of the millions of animals – from rats to dogs – that are killed each year for animal testing in the US would suddenly acquire lawyers to represent their rights.
Nussbaum added that animals living in cities – not just pets – there should be a ‘department of animal welfare’ that would represent the creatures.
‘Animals are not things that we may use as we like,’ Nussbaum told The Daily Express.
‘They are sentient beings who seek their own lives. We share this fragile globe with many other animals, who also feel pain, suffer loss, desire companionship, and to put it briefly, who want to live their own lives just as we want to live our lives.’
Nussbaum points to how the world is ‘dominated’ by humans and this domination ‘inflicts wrongful injury on animals’.
This could be ‘through the barbarous cruelties of the factory meat industry, through poaching and game hunting, through habitat destruction, through pollination of the air and the seas, or through neglect of the companion animals that people purport to love,’ Nussbaum writes in TIME Magazine.
In reality, this could mean that Lady Gaga’s two French bulldogs, Koji and Gustav, (pictured with Gaga) which were kidnapped and held for $500,000 ransom in 2021 before being released, would have been represented in court and received compensation themselves
A general view of atmosphere of PETA Im Me Not Meat Vegan billboard on August 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, California
The scholar argues that the rights of animals should be reevaluated.
‘I don’t think that there is any reason to think that humans are ‘at the top’ of anything,’ she says.
‘We have some abilities that other animals lack, but they also have abilities – sensing magnetic fields, echolocation – that we lack. Most animal groups take better care of their own members than humans do, and many negotiate conflict much better.’
Nussbaum said that the ‘ultimate’ goal would be to give animals an equal legal standing with humans.
‘Ultimately we could do what India has done, which is to give animals recognition as persons under constitutional law,’ she said. ‘You can’t deprive an animal of life or liberty without due process of law. That would be the goal.’
Nussbaum, who won the $1 million Berggruen Prize for philosophy and culture in 2018 and 2022, draws a parallel with how women had no legal rights – and now many have rights and freedoms that would have been unimaginable 200 years ago.
‘The same thing can happen with the rights of humans,’ Nussbaum writes in her book.
She argues that giving animals and humans equal rights would be a ‘win-win’ situation.
‘In some cases the change is win-win: environmental pollution is very bad for humans too.’
Nussbaum argues that if animals are not given the same moral and legal rights as humans, ‘our health will be worse, our lives will be impoverished, and the gloriously rich world in which we dwell will be impoverished beyond repair’.
Who is Martha Nussbaum?
Martha Nussbaum is a Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Colombia.
She has written over 20 books and in 2018 and 2022 the philosopher won the $1 million Berggruen Prize for philosophy and culture.
At the time, Nussbaum’s work was hailed as transcending academia in helping a nation and world to understand and overcome divisiveness.
Nussbaum, who was born in New York City, frequently examines emotions and the role they play in moral and political judgements.
Before starting her career as an academic, Nussbaum left college to take a job acting in a professional repertory company that was performing Greek dramas.
She said in an interview in 2018: ‘I had acted in summer stock previously, but this was my first long-term job.
I was starstruck, and thrilled that I’d be acting with Dame Judith Anderson and the “Cowardly Lion” (from “The Wizard of Oz”), Bert Lahr.’
But Nussbaum said that the world of professional theater was ‘deeply corrupt and that most actors were narcissistic’.
She added: ‘Anderson and Lahr were horrible people. My romance about the life of theater was quickly tarnished, and I went back to academic work soon after.’
Since then, Nussbaum has become a distinguished philosopher and has taught at Harvard University, Brown University, and Oxford University. She now teachers at the University of Chicago.
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