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Why is it Acceptable for the UK Government to Neglect Animal Sentience?
Comment Writer Emily Sharkey argues it is imperative for the government to recognise animal sentience in laws
Earlier this month it was revealed that the post-Brexit UK government have made the decision not to transfer EU legislation recognising the sentience of nonhuman animals into UK law. As a result, many people have interpreted this decision as the government effectively claiming that animals are not to be regarded as capable of experiencing feelings, emotions, or pain.
Although it is disputed as to whether or not the government actually believe that animals are non-sentient, it is crucial, from an ethical position, that the sentience of animals is recognised in some way in UK law as there are a numerous cases in which animals have been proven sentient.
“many people have interpreted this decision as the government effectively claiming that animals are not to be regarded as capable of experiencing feelings, emotions, or pain
One need only look as far as a 1999 study conducted by Frith et al which demonstrates that monkeys are capable of intentionally using gestures in the place of language to communicate their conscious experiences in order to see that animals are sentient beings. The same conclusion of animal sentience may be drawn from a study in which monkeys demonstrated their ability to respond to visual stimuli by either pulling a lever or touching a particular area on a computer screen as a means of reporting their conscious experiences of given visual stimuli to humans.
Additionally, scientific evidence has established that there are similarities between the structure of the human nervous system and the nervous systems of nonhuman animals. A study conducted by Logothetis, for instance, found both that monkeys not only respond to stimuli in the same way as humans but that their brains are organised much like human brains, thus leading to the conclusion that there must be some part of the neurological structure, present in both animals and in humans, that results in sentience. In relation to the experience of pain in particular, biological research has proven that the neural mechanisms that are responsible for the experience of pain in humans, such as nerve impulses, are present in all vertebrate species whilst behavioural studies have shown that animals frequently display behavioural traits, avoiding harmful stimuli and calling for help for instance, that demonstrate the presence of pain.
“If legislation does not regard nonhuman animals to be sentient then it follows that there is a lesser need to protect their well-being than if animals were considered sentient
If this evidence is taken into account it is clear that nonhuman animals possess sentience and are thus capable of experiencing consciousness, emotions, and pain. The decision made by MP’s not to transfer EU legislation recognising the sentience of nonhuman animals into UK law, however, is highly likely to have major consequences for these sentient beings. If legislation does not regard nonhuman animals to be sentient then it follows that there is a lesser need to protect their well-being than if animals were considered sentient. Accordingly, it is entirely possible that the way in which animals are treated, particularly with regard to farming and their use in experimentation, will worsen as a result of the lack of obligation to protect animals.
As it is apparent that animals are sentient, however, it is clear that animals will suffer as a result of this lack of protection and thus it is crucial that we continue protect the interests and rights of animals within post-Brexit UK legislation to ensure that sentient beings are not exploited.
Article By Emily Sharkey