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Animal Rights: the Humane Perspective

On July 7, 2012, the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness was signed and proclaimed at the University of Cambridge by participants in the Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals. The signatories were well-known cognitive neuroscientists, neuroanatomists, neurophysiologists, neuropharmacologists, and computational neuroscientists from around the globe.

The declaration states that animals have consciousness similar to humans and behave with intention. Animals have the same neurological substrates that enable this. Animals include not only mammals but all other creatures, including birds and octopuses.

Animal Sentience

According to a 2021 report on Animal Sentience and Emotions by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA),  animals are sentient. This means they can feel emotions like pleasure, joy, disappointment, loneliness, boredom, sadness, grief, fear, pain, suffering, and anger. Research also shows that animals have a social life.

All animals enjoy playing with each other. Chimpanzees fight and then reconcile and kiss afterward. Mice show empathy toward other mice in pain and help other mice even if it means giving up a treat. Sheep can recognize a familiar face from a two-dimensional image and can be comforted by this when stressed or isolated. Goats remember the specific calls of their kids even up to 17 months from weaning. They use eye contact to communicate with humans as dogs and horses do. They also learn and remember new tasks well.

Pigs have a good memory. They empathize with other pigs, whether in negative or positive emotions. Cows whose calves are taken away grieve. They show frustration when not able to accomplish a task and pleasure upon completion. Individual cows have unique personalities. They also empathize with other cows. Chickens likewise show empathy, are stressed when their chicks experience distress and act to lower the chicks’ distress.

They learn well and understand object permanence or that an object exists even when it is no longer seen or heard. Birds are no less sentient, with high cognitive abilities and complex emotions. Western scrub-jays and crows mourn and have funeral rituals for their dead. Ravens have short-term and long-term memories about reciprocal actions. They also show empathy.

Fish have distinct personalities and substantial cognitive abilities. They can associate a current situation and emotion with memory. They can put situations in context and think about the consequences of an action. Octopuses have long-term memory and high cognitive abilities and can connect their perception with memories. They learn to make and use tools and can open a screw-lid jar to access food. They recognize individual humans and behave differently toward those they like or do not like. Cuttlefish have shown the capacity to count.

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Animals in Laboratory Experiments

Despite the large volume of scientific research showing that animals are sentient, they are still used for scientific experiments. Some animals are bred specifically for experimentation in laboratories and live their entire lives there in distress, with no normal social interaction. They are kept in small cages and have limited movements. Some are kept in isolation. They suffer from invasive and painful procedures, usually with no pain mitigation. Some are altered genetically or intentionally infected with diseases to be studied.

There are, however, alternatives to animal testing that those scientists can use instead. One is in vitro drug testing or testing the active ingredient of a medicine in a test tube or a culture dish instead of an animal. Laboratory-grown cells from human cells in cultures are more accurate environments than animals to test medicines on or to study the progress of certain diseases. These are already in use. Human tissues taken from biopsies and surgeries, as well as autopsies, can likewise be used. These can include healthy cells and those with diseases, depending on the need for the study.

According to Cruelty Free International, research shows that alternatives have more reliable results compared to animal testing.  A cell-based test (CTA) used to determine if certain medicines or chemicals are harmful to a fetus is 100 percent accurate, while the test using pregnant rats is only 60 percent accurate.

A CTA to determine if a substance is carcinogenic to humans has a 90 percent prediction rate compared to 42 percent from the study using rats. Combining a CTA with chemistry shows 90 percent accuracy in human skin allergy tests, while tests on guinea pigs only have 72 percent accuracy, and tests on mice have only 82 percent accuracy.

The Humane Responsibility

Humans share the earth with animals. Since humans are in control of the environment and are working toward its protection, they must also take responsibility to protect the rights of animals. Laws must be passed to ensure this. It is the humane thing to do.

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