Culture & Ethics Icon Culture & Ethics

Animals Can Be "Victims" but Are Not Persons


Some animal rights activists are engaging in pronounced wishful thinking that an Oregon Supreme Court ruling that individual animals can be "victims" under animal neglect statutes is somehow a "landmark" advancing the animals-are-people-too cause.

Well, I have read the case. It’s not true.

Context: The defendant was convicted of twenty counts of animal neglect. He tried to weasel out of the charge by claiming only humans as "persons" can be "victims." The Supreme Court disagreed. From Oregon v. Nix:

The ordinary meaning of the word "victim" reflected in a dictionary of common usage is: "1: a living being sacrificed to some deity or in the performance of a religious rite…"

In that light, it can be seen that defendant’s contention that the "plain meaning" of the word "victim" refers only to persons, and not to animals, is predicated on a selective reading of the dictionary definitions. The first sense listed in the definition, for example, refers broadly to "a living being," not solely to human beings.

The question, then, is simply one of legislative intent:

In concluding that animals are "victims" for the purposes of ORS 167.325 (2), we emphasize that our decision is not one of policy about whether animals are deserving of such treatment under the law. That is a matter for the legislature…

ORS 167.325, protects individual animals from suffering from neglect. In adopting that statute, the legislature regarded those animals as the "victims" of the offense.

So this is not a "landmark" advancing "animal rights." It’s a simple case of statutory interpretation that assumes animals are not persons.

We owe a duty to animals not to abuse or neglect them. Hence, this decision is absolutely and fully consistent with human exceptionalism. I approve.

Image: Oregon Supreme Court/Wikipedia.

Cross-posted at Human Exceptionalism.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.



Law and Courts