Sue-Happy Orcas

Shamu is fed up and he’s suing SeaWorld. The orca argues his captivity at SeaWorld is tantamount to slavery, and that violates the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution.

This is a joke, right? But that would require PETA to have a sense of humor. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has filed suit against SeaWorld, claiming it’s violating the constitutional rights of five killer whales who are being held as slaves and forced to do tricks. They (PETA lawyers, not the orcas) point out the U.S. Constitution doesn’t actually say it only applies to humans.

This is the kind of absurdity for which logical arguments are a poor fit. It may be true that our founding fathers felt no need to make it clear they were talking about human rights. But that’s only because the idea of giving civil rights to an animal was patently ridiculous.

If the case brought by Shamu is not thrown out by a judge, I wonder if the killer whales will be required to testify in court. Will they be deposed? Will the court be required to appoint a translator who speaks dolphin?

Some people have told me allowing lawyers to represent an animal who can’t communicate is no different from making sure a comatose person is fully represented, when the court is deciding whether he/she should be allowed to die.

I’d suggest that’s the exception that proves the rule. Also, there probably was a time when that person could communicate and could tell people what they might want to do in such a situation. Besides, the comatose person is a member of our species. Call me species-centric.

I’d also wonder what kind of a legal precedent would be set if PETA were allowed to represent Shamu and his supposed interests. Will my cat Molly take me to court because I denied her the right to have kittens by having her neutered? All she needs is a lawyer with nothing better to do.

This lawsuit by PETA has resulted in some animated conversations among fellow journalists, most of whom say it’s crazy. One colleague said if he were African American (whose ancestors really were enslaved) he would be very offended by this suit.

To me it looks like another case of humans arguing over animals, and claiming to know what they want. Animal cruelty does exist and it is offensive. But it isn’t a matter of what animals think about it, it’s what we think about it.

St. Francis told us that we and other animals are all God’s creatures. But we are not equal. The intelligence and technology of humans has put us in a class alone. We now control the fate of the environment and its other creatures.

We have the ability to destroy other species, not to mention ourselves. Mind you… life on earth will continue even if we damage our environment enough to wipe ourselves out. Other creatures will survive and thrive and evolve into other life forms, which may actually surpass us and our abilities.

But for now, animals are at our mercy. And we must show them mercy because they aren’t humans and they don’t have rights.

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