Animal Rights: Animals in Genetics Research


To determine whether it should be legal to use a nonhuman animal in genetics research, one needs to evaluate whether she should have the capacity to possess any legal right at all, that is, whether she should be deemed a ‘legal person’, as a matter of liberty, equality or both. The key trait is dignity and what I call ‘practical autonomy’. If a nonhuman animal has the capacity to possess any legal right, the issue is then whether she should be entitled to such fundamental legal rights as bodily liberty and bodily integrity, and whether she should have the legal right to sue to enforce those rights.

Key Concepts:

  • Legal personhood is the fundamental building block of legal rights.

  • Legal persons have the capacity to possess legal rights.

  • Who should be a legal person is a matter of principle and not policy or precedent.

  • One may argue for legal personhood either a noncomparative or as a comparative right.

  • Practical autonomy is a sufficient condition for legal personhood as a noncomparative right.

  • One has practical autonomy if one can desire, intentionally try to fulfil that desire, and possesses a sense of self‐sufficient to allow one to understand, even dimly, that it is oneself who wants something and is trying to get it.

  • The more exactly members of a nonhuman species resemble humans in behaviour, and the closer they are to humans taxonomically, the more confident we can be that they possess practical autonomy.

  • The Normative Model of equality is a hybrid of a comparative and a noncomparative right, as it determines rights against a larger social, political and legal backdrop. It seeks to identify whether some rational connection exists between the means used to accomplish an end and the end it seeks to accomplish and makes a judgement about whether the end itself is appropriate.

  • Prohibited ends might include a legislative or judicial classification that burdens a plaintiff in a manner that reflects deeply personal social stereotypes that are biologically immutable or changeable only at unacceptable personal costs or that involve morally irrelevant traits.

  • A Level 1 legal person may possess any of an infinite number of legal rights, again as a matter of liberty and equality.

Keywords: legal rights; animal rights; legal personhood; personhood; capacity for legal rights


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Further Reading

Wise SM (1998) Hardly a revolution – the eligibility of nonhuman animals for dignity‐rights in a liberal democracy. Vermont Law Review 22: 793.

Wise SM (2000) Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.

Wise SM (2001) A great shout – breaking the barriers to legal rights for Great Apes. In: Beck BB, Stoinski TS, Hutchins M et al. (eds) Great Apes and Humans – The Ethics of Coexistence. Washington and London: Smithsonian Press.

Wise SM (2002) Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.

Wise SM (2004) Animal rights, one step at a time. In: Cass S and Martha N (eds) Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wise SM (2005) Though the heavens May Fall – The landmark Trial That Led to the End of Human Slavery. Cambridge, MA: da Capo Press.

Wise SM (2007) The entitlement of chimpanzees to the common law writs of habeas corpus and de homine replegiando to challenge their legal thinghood. Golden Gate Law Review 37(2): 219.

Wise SM (2010) Legal personhood and the nonhuman rights project. Animal Law 17: 1.

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Wise, Steven M(Jul 2012) Animal Rights: Animals in Genetics Research. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005657.pub2]