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Our readers asked:

Do Animals Have Rights?

Charles C. Camosy, PhD Answers:

Q: Don’t animals have rights? Why doesn’t the church consider that animals have a soul? Shouldn’t we all be vegetarians?

It depends what you mean by “rights.” If you mean a set of things that only a moral and self-aware creature can have, then non-moral and non-self-aware animals obviously do not have rights. But if by “rights” you simply mean a set of claims against being treated immorally, then lots of animals have rights. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church claims that it is seriously immoral to cause animals to suffer and die without great need.

But let’s not get distracted by talk of rights. Non-human animals can and do suffer at the hands of cruel human beings. Indeed, each time we purchase meat at a traditional grocery store or restaurant, we contribute to the horrific sufferings and deaths that pigs, chickens, turkeys, and other animals must undergo in modern-day factory farms. We don’t need to claim that non-human animals have rights to question and change our support of these kinds of sinful social structures. Before he became Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger said that these kinds of farms violated God’s plan for creation. It is hard to disagree with him.

The Author : Charles C. Camosy, PhD
Charlie Camosy is assistant professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University where he has been since finishing his Ph.D. in theology at Notre Dame in 2008. His book Too Expensive to Treat? Finitude, Tragedy, and the Neonatal ICU (Eerdmans, 2010) was honored at the 2011 Catholic Media Association awards. Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization was released with Cambridge University Press in May of 2012. Charlie is also the founder and co-director of the Catholic Conversation Project and a member of the ethics committee at the Children's Hospital of New York.
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