Animal sentience means the ability to perceive and feel. It means that the animal is capable of being aware of his/her surroundings and her relationships with other animals and humans and of being in touch with sensations such as pain, hunger et cetera.
Not long ago, I wrote about the introduction of a law into Great Britain which would legally recognize animals as sentient beings. Such a law would bestow upon all animals, domestic and wild, additional rights. It would change the relationship between humans and animals. It would be a massive step in the fight for animal welfare.
It has transpired that since I wrote the article this massive step appears to be unattainable. And I would suggest that it is currently, on the planet as we know it now, unattainable anywhere in the world because once you legally assign sentience to animals the world becomes unworkable because of the underlying abuse of animals in all areas of our relationship with them.
Members of Parliament in Britain have argued that a bill to introduce animal sentience would result in thousands of people challenging the government on the decisions regarding animals. What they’re saying is that any future laws which touch on animal welfare or affect it may be in contravention of an overriding law which grants sentience to animals. I see this as a good thing. I see it as a wonderful thing but our representatives in government don’t. They see it as too radical and impossible to make it workable.
A lot of members of Parliament in the UK want to scrap the first section in a new bill on animal sentience. Is currently drafted as follows:
“. .have regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings”. And then to weigh those welfare needs against the public interest.
Even the RSPCA say that it would lead to conflicts between animal welfare and the public interest. The truth is that the public interest would outweigh animal welfare. We see therefore that the world is still heavily human-centric to an extent where it is impossible to grant improved rights to animals without severely impacting upon human interests.
Members of Parliament believe that a whole range of government policy making initiatives will be thrown onto the court to adjudicate. They want the name of the bill to be changed from “Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) to Animal Welfare (Sentencing). In other words the bill basically introduces longer sentences for crimes of animal cruelty.
One MP said that protections offered to companion animals would be extended to wild animals and livestock. She implied that to do this would be impossible. It makes you wonder whether we can ever allow ourselves to legally bestow upon animals the description that they are sentient beings.