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Legal Status and Ethical Considerations Surrounding Animal Welfare: An Evolving Landscape

CA Gyati Gupta , Last updated: 17 May 2024  
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In the annals of legal history, the treatment of non-human entities, particularly animals, has undergone a profound evolution. Once considered liable for their own actions and subject to punishment for wrongdoings, today's legal landscape offers a markedly different perspective.

Ancient legal systems often held lower animals and beasts accountable for their actions, meting out punishment accordingly. However, as societal attitudes and legal principles evolved, this approach shifted significantly. In modern law, animals are not afforded legal personhood. Rather, they are considered objects devoid of rights or responsibilities.

Under contemporary legal frameworks, the responsibility for the actions of animals typically falls upon their owners or caretakers. Masters are held accountable for any harm caused by their pets or beasts if they are found negligent in their care and control. Furthermore, harm inflicted upon an animal is viewed as harm to its owner or to society at large, rather than an offense committed by the animal itself.

Legal Status and Ethical Considerations Surrounding Animal Welfare: An Evolving Landscape

If an ox runs into a field and destroys some crops, can we sue the ox for damage? The answer is no, we cannot sue the ox for damage. This is because animals are not separate legal entities under the law. We can sue the owner of the ox for negligent care in controlling the animal, but not the beast itself.

Despite their status as legal objects, modern law recognizes the importance of safeguarding the welfare of animals. In India, legislation has been enacted to ensure the well-being and maintenance of animals. Key provisions include:

a. Prohibition of cruelty towards animals, with such acts constituting an offense under the law.

b. Recognition of charitable public trusts established for the benefit of classes of animals, rather than individual animals, as valid and enforceable entities.

These legal provisions reflect a broader societal acknowledgment of the intrinsic value of animal life and the necessity of protecting their welfare within the framework of modern legal systems.

In India, animals are considered sentient beings with legal protections under various laws. The primary legislation governing the welfare and protection of animals is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. This law outlines various provisions aimed at preventing cruelty towards animals and promoting their welfare. Additionally, India has enacted specific laws for the protection of wildlife, such as the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which safeguards endangered species and regulates their conservation and trade.

Furthermore, the Constitution of India under Article 51A(g) imposes a fundamental duty on citizens to have compassion for living creatures and to strive towards the protection of animals and the environment.

Overall, while animals do not have legal personhood status in India, they are granted certain rights and protections under the law to prevent cruelty and ensure their well-being.

How is it that we assert animals lack legal personhood, yet the concept of cattle insurance exists?

The concept of cattle insurance doesn't necessarily confer legal personhood status to animals. Instead, it operates within the framework of property law. In many legal systems, including India, animals are considered property, similar to other assets like vehicles or real estate. Cattle insurance, therefore, is a form of property insurance where the owner of the cattle can insure them against risks such as theft, disease, or death.

This insurance typically covers the financial loss incurred by the owner in case of damage, loss, or death of the insured cattle. It doesn't grant animals legal personhood but rather provides a means for their owners to protect their financial interests related to the animals.

So, while animals may not have legal personhood status, they can still be insured as property under existing legal frameworks.

What about animals hired and trained for military purposes? Do they have legal personhood?

Animals trained and employed for military purposes, such as military dogs, typically do not enjoy legal personhood status. Instead, they are considered tools or equipment utilized by the military. Their status is akin to other assets used by the military, such as vehicles, weapons, or technology.

While these animals undergo specialized training and play critical roles in military operations, they are still regarded as property under the law. Their treatment and welfare may be subject to specific regulations and ethical considerations, but they are not granted legal personhood.

 

The absence of legal personhood for these animals means that they do not possess legal rights or responsibilities in the same way that human beings do. Their use in military operations is governed by military regulations, policies, and guidelines rather than legal personhood status.

What legal standing do animals used for medicinal testing in laboratories hold? Is this practice not considered cruel towards animals?

Animals used for medicinal testing in laboratories typically do not have legal personhood status. Instead, they are considered research subjects or experimental models. This means they are treated as objects or resources to be used for scientific research rather than possessing legal rights or protections akin to humans.

The ethical implications of using animals for testing are complex and have been the subject of significant debate. While such testing has led to important advancements in medicine and science, concerns about animal welfare and the potential for cruelty are paramount. Many countries have enacted legislation and guidelines to regulate the use of animals in research, aiming to minimize suffering and ensure humane treatment as much as possible.

However, the question of whether such testing constitutes cruelty towards animals is subjective and depends on one's perspective. While some argue that the potential benefits to human health justify the use of animals in research, others contend that the suffering experienced by these animals cannot be justified, especially considering advancements in alternative testing methods.

 

Ultimately, the legal status of animals used for medicinal testing varies by jurisdiction, and the ethical considerations surrounding their use remain a complex and ongoing issue.

In conclusion, the evolution of legal treatment towards animals reflects our changing societal values and understanding of their rights and welfare. While animals may not possess legal personhood status, the laws governing their treatment continue to evolve to ensure their protection and well-being. We hope you found this exploration insightful and welcome any feedback or thoughts you may have.

This article is co-authored by CA Gyati Gupta and CA Harpreet Singh

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CA Gyati Gupta
(In Practice)
Category LAW   Report

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