HSUS and Animal Rights: A 30-Year Marriage

Google may eventually take over the universe, but for now we're okay with that because the Google Books service is an exceptionally cool research tool. We're constantly finding old material we didn't know existed, just because it's suddenly text-searchable.

Here’s one gem: a 1981 statement from HSUS detailing why it officially supports pursuing rights for animals.

The excerpt on the right gets to the meat of matter. It’s from the May 1982 issue of Vegetarian Times and it details HSUS’s explicit endorsement in 1980 of the animal rights position:

… there is no rational basis for maintaining a moral distinction between the treatment of humans and the treatment of other animals.

We don't think HSUS has ever repealed this policy statement; if we're wrong, we feel confident the group's lawyers will let us know.

What rights does HSUS think animals have? Here’s how HSUS lawyer Peter Lovenheim defined it. This is from 1981, mind you, so it may have since “evolved” into an even more specific policy that HSUS isn't sharing with its members:

In general, all animals have the right to adequate nutrition, to an environment suited to their natural and essential behaviors, and the right not to be subjected to unnecessary physical pain. More specific rights will vary according to species.

So essentially, HSUS believes that every human interaction with animals should be subject to a balancing test in which both parties’ interests are given (in HSUS’s words) “equal consideration.” In one example, HSUS states that you shouldn’t be allowed to own a monkey because its “right to a suitable environment should outweigh the human being’s interest in keeping an exotic pet.”

By that logic, it’s hard to see how zoos would continue to exist in an HSUS-approved world. And certainly, killing an animal to eat its meat—whether on a farm or in the woods—would have to involve "unnecessary physical pain” by the vegan measuring stick. The fact that we could all subsist on a diet of green beans and tofu apparently means that we must.

And if animals have the right to an “environment suited to their natural and essential behaviors,” does that mean HSUS would curb suburban development too? It sure sounds like it.

Once animals have a seat at the table with people, as equals, we've opened Pandora’s Menagerie. And since HSUS president Wayne Pacelle likes to note that “animals can’t speak for themselves,” it’s apparently up to him to step in and articulate what animals really want.

Here’s where all this is headed: in HSUS's view, the idea of animal rights is more far-reaching than merely “loving animals or being kind to them”:

Animals’ requirements are varied, and some are of greater importance than others, but when we recognize them as rights, we have a moral obligation to give them fair consideration, and to deny them only if other rights are overriding. In this way, ’animal rights’ helps us move beyond kindness, towards justice. (Emphasis added.)

So while Pacelle and other HSUS mouthpieces make appeals to “compassion” and “kindness,” they’re really looking farther down the road. And they've been doing it for decades.

Remember what "justice" looks like in HSUS's world. It's 100 percent vegan. There's no hunting and fishing. Lab animals (or their lawyers) have to sign consent forms before we can cure cancer. And so on. It also means giving them the right to sue. This is already happening in Switzerland, where even fish can have lawyers.

Whenever you hear that "animals can’t speak for themselves" canard, play the proverbial tape forward a bit. See where it leads. In my book, it leads right to where White House regulatory “czar” Cass Sunstein wants to take us. (And inside the beltway, Sunstein is “on everyone’s short lists” to be the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.)

If you think we're tilting at windmills here, read the whole Vegetarian Times essay for yourself. Think about what we've all learned together about the Humane Society of the United States during the last 10 weeks. And understand that we've really just scratched the surface.