Animals may or may not have rights, but rights are not the issue. Humans have rights that are ignored and violated all the time. The question is how to live. If you believe we have created rights because we have morals, then we have to live by them. Part of the moral code we strive for is to give equal consideration to all beings. Once we consider animals fully, we realize we should treat them with respect as individuals.
A common argument why animals don’t deserve rights is that they are not as intelligent as humans, and therefore cannot comprehend these rights. If so, what about humans with developmental disabilities? Should people that may have lower mental capacities than some animals, and have no prospect of gaining those faculties, be eaten, used for their parts, caged, tortured and tested on? The answer is no.
Some may argue that in nature, animals are hunted and killed all the time. Likewise, humans can be hunted and killed by animals or other humans with not a thought about our rights. This does not mean we should voluntarily subject ourselves to it. We make a weak claim when we say animals kill each other, and therefore we should too. The fact that we know better makes us morally bound to not inflict pain on others; it is the responsibility that comes with our knowledge.
Pain is pain. The bottom line is that animals can feel pain, and as sentient beings they do not deserve to be subjected to this pain if it can be avoided, just as we do not deserve to be subjected to pain unnecessarily.
Non-human animals (because humans are animals as well) are subjected to disgusting tests like the LD50, which determines the dosage that will kill half the animals in the study. The Draize eye irritancy test, which can last up to three weeks, causes suffering as dangerous substances are poured into rabbits’ eyes and left to fester. Injection studies, immersion tests, inhalation tests, and dermal toxicity tests are some of the others, and in none of these tests are the animals given painkillers of any sort, so as to not disrupt the accuracy of the study.
When animals are subjected to pain, they cry out, they try to escape—they make the same reactions that we do, because they feel a comparable sensation. Some people try to deny that animals feel pain, but if these animals have organs and nervous systems so similar to ours that they can be used as substitutes for human tests, then why is it not painfully obvious they would feel the same pain as ours? Animals do feel pain. Some animals have sharper senses than our own, like a dog’s sense of hearing or a shark’s tactile sensitivity, meaning they may feel even more pain than us for a particular stimulus.
I would rather see these tests performed on consenting humans than on non-consensual slaves. By the same light of reason, animals do not consent to be eaten, and furthermore do not need to be eaten.
As Jeremy Bentham put it, “The question is not, can they reason? Nor can they talk? But, can they suffer?”
Animals should be treated as ends in themselves, and not as means to our ends.