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Conference Summary:"The Moral and Legal Status of Non-Human Animals"

Center for Animal Law and Ethics



Publish Date:
May 2003
Place of Publication: Portugal
Printable Version

Conference Summary:"The Moral and Legal Status of Non-Human Animals"

Center for Animal Law and Ethics

www.cedaonline.no.sapo.pt

Portugal: Scientists, Philosophers, Lawyers and Legal Scholars gathered in the Lisbon University Law School demand better legal protection for animals

Summary of Conclusions of the Symposium "The Moral and Legal Status of Non-Human Animals"

Gathered in the Lisbon University Law School to take part in the Symposium "The Moral and Legal Status of Non-Human Animals", distinguished Portuguese scientists, philosophers, lawyers and legal scholars discussed several points about the moral and legal status of non-human animals and about the legal protection means that should be created to correspond to the moral obligation of respecting and protecting them.

The symposium started with a speech of the Secretary of State of Agriculture and Fishery, Luís Frazão Gomes, who spoke about several legislative measures of animal protection that the Government has been preparing and will soon implement. However, this high representative of the Portuguese Government did not advance many details about these measures.

The speech of the Secretary of State was followed by the intervention of Jorge Bacelar Gouveia, lawyer and professor of law in the New University of Lisbon Law School. Bacelar Gouveia referred to the instruments of legal protection of animals that are presently valid in Portugal, as well as to their legal status. In answering a specific question, the law professor also referred to the justifiability of the Proposal for the Introduction of the Protection of Animals in the Portuguese Constitution.

After a first legal perspective, came a first scientific approach. Ilda Gomes Rosa, professor of animal behaviour in the Lisbon Technical University School of Veterinary Science, explained in which way the behaviour of animals and their ethological characteristics and needs are connected with their welfare. The veterinary doctor defended the necessity of taking into account these characteristics and needs in order to preserve adequately the welfare of animals.

The next speaker was Fernando Borges Araújo, professor of law and Vice-President of the Board of the Lisbon University Law School. Borges Araújo combined moral philosophy with philosophy of law in his intervention. Author of The Time for Animal Rights - the first book of a Portuguese author on animal law and animal rights -, the professor spoke about the connection between anthropocentrism, anthropomorphism and speciesism, accepting the anthropocentric character of morality and law (since they are human theoretical constructions), rejecting, however, whether the anthropomorphic tendencies of human attitudes towards animals, as well as the speciesist discrimination and its unjustifiable implications of the first towards the latter.

Still in a philosophical domain, although strongly supported by biology, Humberto Rosa, professor of environmental ethics of the Lisbon University Faculty of Sciences, presented the biological groundwork for an ethical and legal hierarchy of animals. The evolutionary biologist argued for the legal protection of non-human animals that are merely sentient from the unjustifiable suffering, while presenting the case for the attribution of legal rights for non-human animals that are self-conscious and that have such a mental complexity that may be considered persons (non-human persons), as in the case of great apes and some cetaceans, like dolphins.

Ending the first session of the symposium, António Maria Pereira, lawyer and representative in this event of the President of the Portuguese Bar Association, brought a general view about the present legal status of non-human animals in Portugal and about the legislation that exists and that is aimed to protect them. Combining his legal expertise with his strong political experience, namely as the author of the Animal Protection Law (the Law 92/95) - which he proposed to the Parliament while Member of Parliament in 1995 -, António Maria Pereira did not limit himself to describe the present situation. The lawyer and senior partner of the largest and strongest law firm in Portugal supported strong and truly meaningful advances in the legal protection of animals in Portugal, confirming his fair reputation as an historical animal rights advocate in Portugal.

Carlota Pizarro de Almeida, law professor of the Lisbon University Law School and Vice-President of the CALE, started the second session of symposium. The expert in criminal law presented the view of the defense of animals from this area of law, namely referring to the several examples of other European Union member-states which laws and statutes establish as crimes several kinds of cruelties committed against animals. Carlota Pizarro de Almeida made clear that the criminalisation of these kinds of acts in Portugal is not only fully justifiable by itself, but is also a proposal that is far from being isolated, when considering the laws of other countries.

And, in a symposium about the moral and legal status of non-human animals, Pedro Galvão, Director of the Center for Applied Ethics of the Portuguese Philosophy Society and Vice-President of the CALE, who spoke about the very idea of moral status, covered the part of "pure" moral philosophy. Passing by the two great strings of moral philosophy - consequentialism (of which it is best known utilitarianism as defended by Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, Adam Smith and, more recently, Peter Singer) and non-consequentialism (of which is best known Kant´s deonthology or, in a more updated version, Christine Kosgaard moral theory or the rights theory of Tom Regan, also applied to the rights of non-human animals) -, Pedro Galvão analysed more specifically Peter Singer´s theory of moral status, pointing some objections to Singer´s preference utilitarianism. Galvão left some clues to solve the possible inconsistencies that the normative theory of preference utilitarianism may have when applied to the defense of non-human animals.

Maria Luísa Duarte, professor of law in the Lisbon University Law School, was the following speaker, presenting an overview of the protection of animals in European Law and of the the relation between the legislative intervention of the European Union and of each member-state (namely Portugal) concerning animal protection policies. Maria Luísa Duarte referred to some EU Directives passed to the Portuguese Law, alerted that the animal protection organisations may resort to EU Directives even if these have not yet been passed to the Portuguese Law and advoked that, in the preparation of a Constitution of the European Union, it is absolutely justified to include in this constitutional text the protection of animals as one of its articles.

Although professor of animal health in the Lisbon Technical University School of Veterinary Science, Armando Louzã also spoke about the existing animal welfare and animal protection legislation. Based in his experience, namely after being member of several Portuguese and EU supervising committees regarding animal welfare and animal health, Armando Louzã mentioned several legal statutes that determine the obligation of insuring the protection and welfare of animals, denouncing that, in most cases, this legislation is not respected and observed, whether because of the lack of control and inspection, or because of the lack of political will to enforce it.

Pedro Paulo de Azeredo Perdigão, in his turn, spoke as the lawyer that has worked in all the cases concerning animal protection in the Portuguese courts, where he has been developing an absolutely pioneer work. Referring to several cases in which he represented ANIMAL and other animal rights and animal welfare organisations, Azeredo Perdigão exposed the dark situation of the reality of animal protection in Portugal, in opposition to the fable, which would be the absence of the problems of which he spoke. From the sadly well known "Barrancos case" (which lead to the legalisation of death bullfights in Portugal last year), to the sports of pigeon shooting and also mentioning the case of the "bulls of fire" that was set to happen some months ago in Santarém and that ANIMAL was able to stop from happening, the lawyer made clear that, every time he resorts to caution measures to preserve animals from cruel activities, the courts and judicial magistrates tend to give always the best response possible, whether in the terms in which they answer to these urgent legal actions, whether in the surprisingly fast way in which they attend to the urgency and seriousness of such appeals. However, the lawyer said that the Government and the Attorney General´s Office always raise many obstacles to keep the legislation and the court orders from being enforced and executed. Azeredo Perdigão noted also that some Members of Parliament are particularly interested in stopping the advancement of animal protection.

Manuel Eduardo dos Santos, biologist and professor of ethology of the Institute of Applied Psychology, brought his biologist and ethologist point of view, decisive for a discussion about the moral and legal status of non-human animals. Strongly rejecting the application of the category of "thing" to animals, the ethologist explained in which way animals are seen as natural resources, namely in biology, and in which way can they be protected as such. Manuel Eduardo dos Santos argued, however, for stronger positions, presenting the case for the attribution of legal personhood to great apes (such as bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans) and cetaceans (such as dolphins and whales), considering their characteristics. The ethologist also said that there are no reasons to set discriminatory gaps between the animals belonging to these species and to animals of other species. He supported the establishment of the same degree of legal protection for all sentient animals (although he also mentioned the difficulties that arise when trying to define exact degrees of sentiency). Still, the evolutionary biologist admitted that the accomplishment of meaningful advances in the legal protection of animals belonging to some species - like great apes and cetaceans - may lead to similar advances towards animals belonging to several other species.

At last, and although Assunção Esteves, President of the Commission of Constitutional Affairs, Rights and Liberties of the Portuguese Parliament, could not be on the symposium in time to take part in it, she joined the speakers and several other members of the CALE in a dinner meeting that night. And it was in this meeting that the constitutionalist and Member of Parliament restated her strong commitment to the defense of animals. Assunção Esteves made clear that, as President of the First Commission of the Parliament, not only is absolutely supportive of the increase of the legal protection of animals in Portugal, but also dedicated to take specific measures to achieve practical results in this area. Having said that, Assunção Esteves stated that she will herself present the Proposal for the Introduction of the Protection of Animals in the Portuguese Constitution, of which she is a strong supporter, so that this diploma may be considered in the Parliament voting on the constitutional revision in September next. Portugal can come to have in the near future the protection of animals included in its Constitution. On the other hand, Assunção Esteves also announced that she will ask the Portuguese Members of Parliament and Members of the European Parliament to support the inclusion of the protection of animals in the European Union Constitution, being prepared by the European Convention. The German Foreign Affairs Minister, Joschka Fischer, has already proposed this, as well as an Austrian MEP, and Assunção Esteves declared her full support to that initiative. The President of the Constitutional Affairs Commission also said that she will address a letter to all the mayors of Portuguese cities, asking them to involve themselves directly in the protection of animals, intervening locally to solve many local problems. Assunção Esteves declared that she is most interested in having a decisive role in the work of accomplishing more and better legal protection instruments for animals. The co-operation between her and the Commission of Constitutional Affairs and the Center for Animal Law and Ethics got very much strengthened in this event.

The group of experts in biology, ethology, veterinary medicine, ethics and law that was gathered in the Lisbon University Law School to take part in this symposium established several points of consensus, presenting the scientifical, philosophical and legal groundworks for the advances that were demanded in defense of the reinforcement of the legal protection of animals in Portugal. All these groundworks will be published in an anthology with all the texts of the communications presented in this event, which will be titled as The Moral and Legal Status of Non-Human Animals, and which will be edited by Miguel Moutinho, for the CALE.

In the several points of consensus, the following are to be referred: 1) the inclusion of the protection of animals in the Portuguese Constitution, 2) the inclusion of the protection of animals in the Constitution of the European Union, 3) the changing of the legal status of animals in the Portuguese Civil Code from "things" to the category of "animals" or "non-human persons", 4) the proposal of more specific legislation of animal protection - possibly, recovering the initial project of António Maria Pereira of preparing an Animal Protection Code -, and 5) the negotiation with policy-makers, whether in the Government or the Parliament, so that these may respond positively to the necessity of insuring a practical and effective protection to animals.

Considering the positive attitude of the Secretary of State of Agriculture and Fishery and, even more, the admirable sensitivity and commitment of the President of the Commission of Constitutional Affairs of the Portuguese Parliament regarding animal protection, it appears safe to believe that the conclusions of this symposium will have practical consequences that will definitively benefit animals in Portugal. It is at least certain that the CALE and that ANIMAL will keep on working to achieve that.

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