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            I.      Introduction
There has been a dispute going on concerning the status of animals in the last 20th century. A controversial group is pressing and lobbying for raising the rank of animals to equal level with that of human beings. This movement, known as the liberation of animals or otherwise referred to as animal rights, lifts the level of protecting the welfare of animals, or ensuring their humane treatment but is calling for a drastic change that the law would bestow upon animals the same rights as that of human beings as far as securing their basic interests. These basic interests include the right to life, of being protected from torture and suffering ill treatment, and freedom from captivity. The legal presumption would be that animals would cease being treated as mere human property but will achieve the position as legal persons — be clothed with legal status of personhood (“Personhood Redefined: Animal Rights Strategy Gets at the Essence of Being Human”). This movement is gaining support and continues to work before the United Nations to secure the passing of laws that specifies the said basic interests.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, is the practice of vivisection. Literally speaking, it entails the dissection of a living animal. The term is now used to apply to all types of experiments on living animals, whether or not cutting is done. These two opposing factions continue to battle for support.

         II.      History
The movement that concerns on the advancement of the interests of animals is rooted in antiquity. One of the early proponents of the animal rights movement was the Greek philosopher Pythagoras. He believed that the soul of humans could possibly transfer to that of animals. Consequently, the killing of animals according to him could also be an act of injuring the human soul (possibly an ancestor) living inside the body of the animal. Pythagoras taught kindness toward all subhuman creations as a duty, and the poet Bion put it in its simplest terms: “Boys stone a frog in sport, but the frog dies in earnest”. Even the Romans, despite the barbarities of the circus, had feelings about proper treatment of animals; when Pompey the Great organized a particularly revolting slaughter of elephants, the populace rose up and cursed him for his ruthlessness.

If St. Francis of Assisi was the greatest friend of animals, Rene Descartes, the French philosopher, was perhaps their greatest enemy. He believed that animals had no souls and that, as thinking and feeling processes in his view were part of the soul, animals could feel no pain. Further, Descartes concluded that animals were mere machines. He and his followers marveled that these “mechanical robots”, as they called them, “could give such a realistic illusion of agony”. Late in the 18th century, the English jurist Jeremy Bentham phrased the matter differently: “The question is not, Can they reason? Nor, Can they talk? But, Can they suffer?”

Perhaps the world’s first anticruelty law, was included in the legal code of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (U.S.) in 1641, which stated:  “No man shall exercise any Tirrany or Crueltie towards any bruite Creature which are usuallie kept for man’s use”. In 1809 the Scottish Lord Erskine presented a bill in parliament to prevent cruelty to such animals as horses, pigs, oxen, and sheep. The bill passed the House of Lords in the face of sarcasm but failed in the House of Commons. In 1822, however, Richard “Humanity Dick” Martin was responsible for the passing of the Martin Act, which applied to large domestic animals.

Two years later in England, in 1824, came the world’s first animal welfare society — the Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Animals (which in 1840 added the prefix Royal to its name at Queen Victoria’s behest). France was not far behind. In 1845 General Jacques Delmas de Grammont founded the Society for the Protection of Animals; in 1850 he also pushed through an act similar to the English statute, know as the Law Grammont. Other countries that soon followed suit and initiated both laws and animal welfare societies included Ireland, Germany, Austria, Belgium and The Netherlands. A pivotal figure for the protection of the welfare of animals in the United States was Henry Bergh, Abraham Lincoln’s minister to Russia. In St. Petersburg, Bergh had seen a Russian droshky driver beating a horse, and from the moment of that incident to the end of his life he campaigned for animals in every issue from bullfighting to vivisection. Largely through Bergh’s efforts, the first anticruelty society in the United States — the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — was chartered in the state of New York in 1866. The late 20th century also witnessed the burgeoning of a number of specialized animal advocacy groups, including those dedicated to the preservation of endangered species (e.g., certain whales, dolphins, seals, and tigers); those that protested against painful or brutal methods of trappings and killing; and those that protested the use of animals for research and in product testing such as cosmetics (“Cruelty to Animals”).

     III.      Issues

A.       Animals Rights vs. Vivisection

Whereas animal rights is continually gaining ground, those that are in agreement for the practice of vivisection strongly defends it on the ground of the latter’s invaluable contribution to the advancement of our understanding of life processes, which has gathered information from experiments on invertebrates, fishes, amphibians, and rodents. An outstanding example and justification of this kind of research was that of the English court physician William Harvey in the first quarter of the 17th century. His experiments on a large variety of invertebrate and vertebrate organisms clearly demonstrated the relationship between the heartbeat and the circulation of blood. Experiments on larger mammals, especially the dog and cat, had sometimes been performed even in ancient times by so-called physicians and surgeons; but it was not until the development of the newer biomedical sciences of physiology in the 19th century that the use of these mammals in the research laboratory became general on the European continent. A complete understanding of the normal and abnormal functioning of man has always been an important goal of biological research.

However, many early animal experiments, particularly on larger mammals, undoubtedly caused the subjects to experience much discomfort and pain, just as therapeutic and surgical procedure was responsible for much human suffering until relatively recent times. This in turn, has raised the issue of animal cruelty.

B.       Animal Cruelty
The practice of cruelty to animals involves the willful or wanton infliction of pain, suffering, or death upon an animal, or the intentional or malicious neglect of an animal. In varying degrees, it is now illegal in most countries in the world, and, in the late 20th century, interest in endangered species gave further impetus to the anticruelty movement. Reflecting such interest, many laws have been passed, although they are seldom enforced without active and vocal public pressure being brought to bear upon the appropriate enforcement officials.

Organized antivivisectionists have sought to influence lawmakers and the lay population in virtually all countries where animal experiments are performed. Almost yearly since 1897, anti-vivisectionist-sponsored bills have been offered in the United States Congress.

C.       Results
Antivivisectionists have frequently succeeded in such matters as preventing the acquisition of dogs and cats by research laboratories and professional schools. As a countermeasure, the National Society for Medical Research was founded in 1946 under the sponsorship of the Association of American Medical Colleges. This society has the support of professional schools and research and philanthropic institutions. State chapters comprise individual scientists and responsible public figures. Largely because of the activities of these groups, many states now have specific laws that permit approved institutions to obtain unwanted stray animals for research purposes. (A. Kuperman. “Vivisection).

     IV.      Regulations
Awareness to animal’s welfare has compelled men to take responsibility to give humane treatments of non-human animals. In the United States, various states have now passed rigorous bylaws, which bears severe punishment for all law-breakers. State regulations assure the protection of animals from cruelty and neglect. In Texas, California, and New York prohibits animals to undergo torture, being overworked, or being neglected of necessities such as food and shelter.

         V.      Opposition
Animal rights movement has significantly brought attention to the improvement of animal’s safety.  In Canada, the group attained fractional achievement when the government laid strict measures against fur trading. However, opposition groups have raised the question of the morality of the decision, since an adverse effect on the restriction was the Eskimo communities’ loss of main livelihood. While the welfare of both animals and humans are both valuable, it has pressed on the issue that man’s welfare should not be sacrificed in place of animals (R. Scruton. “Animal Rights”).

Moreover, countermeasures for animal rights, done by those in opposition, continue to press on the significance of advancement in anesthetic technique and in neurophysiology —- chiefly the result of animal experiments, which has now enabled scientists to develop laboratory animal methods, as humane as those used in modern medical practice. Humane treatment of the animals is now considered a chief prerequisite for efficient and successful research in the biomedical sciences.

Despite the compromise mentioned above, animal rights and anti-vivisectionists are not at ease with this measures, arguing for total abolishment of the use of animals for research purposes stating the unreliability of animal reactions in comparison with humans; as research works have shown that a ratio of two out of one hundred (2:100) chimpanzees infused with HIV had suffered illness, nor had degenerated into contracting AIDS (“Animal Rights”).

On the other hand, those in opposition to animal rights further argue that animals do not have the moral capacity to be a part of human society. As such, animals should not be given the privilege of personhood.

     VI.      Alternatives
Advocate groups against vivisection has proposed alternatives, proposing research methods which employs the use of genomic, in vitro, or computer-modeling techniques instead of animal testing. A pharmaceutical company based in England is beginning to use human tissues only in studying the effect of certain drugs through computer technology. While past methods have used animal tissues, the company argues that the use of human tissues gives a more reliable and efficient results. Gordon Baxter, cofounder of the pharmaceutical company believes that there is no point to resorting back to animal testing when recent advancements has made available the use of human genes. It is also said to be less expensive.

Medical studies can also avail of other alternatives such as computer programs, multimedia CD-ROMS, patient simulators, and through observation of actual human surgery (“Alternatives: Testing Without Torture”).

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Man evolves to becoming more humane. While the cruel mistakes of the past may not be unraveled, it can be used to work on for improvement. While man has not been created for animals, it is nevertheless responsible to take care of its welfare. Significant advancement in technology has paved the way for far better alternatives that could prevent the spirit of cruelty enacted even to seemingly “less significant” creations. If not, humans will continue to act in brutality — more “animalistic” than non-human animals.


1.      “Personhood Redefined: Animal Rights Strategy Gets at the Essence of Being Human”.

2.      “Cruelty to Animals”. Encyclopedia Britannica. Vol. 1. 1991

3.      Kuperman, A. “Vivisection”. Encyclopedia Americana. 1990

4.      Scruton, R. “Animal Rights”.

5.      “Animal Rights”.

6.      “Alternatives: Testing Without Torture”.