The Rise of Animal Law

Science  01 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6025, pp. 28-31
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6025.28

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Animal law is a relatively new area of study that examines—and often challenges—how the law treats animals. Some of those who teach animal law courses describe themselves as activists; others shy away from that label. But many take issue with a legal system that treats animals as property and provides few mechanisms for protecting their interests in court. Some of these legal scholars have proposed strategies for advancing animal rights through steppingstone cases that erode the notion of animals as property and grant them some of the same protections people have. Others, drawing inspiration from the antislavery and civil rights movements, advocate a more direct effort to establish fundamental rights for animals—at least for more cognitively sophisticated species such as great apes and cetaceans (see sidebar). No one is arguing that orangutans should be given the right to vote, but some legal scholars see no reason why apes shouldn't have rights similar to those of a child or a person in a coma. If these efforts succeed, there could be repercussions for everyone who works with animals—including scientists.