C.. S. Lewis loved the animal kingdom. In his space trilogy, he never missed an opportunity to demonstrate his deep dislike for cruelty to animals. As Lewis researcher Gerald Root has researched, he often associated such cruelty with evil characters – like Professor Weston, a vivisectionist who is described in the books as “the monster”. In the Chronicles of Narnia series, Lewis illustrated how mistreatment of animals often leads to mistreatment of humans. Remember that in The Magician’s Nephew, Uncle Andrew’s grotesque experiments on guinea pigs are a prelude to his experiments on the children, Digory and Polly.
In his 1947 essay Vivisection, Lewis examined the difference between sensation and consciousness and the difference between animals and humans. From a philosophical as well as theological point of view, Lewis believed that humans have a responsibility towards animals. He insisted that inflicting pain requires justification and that if the person inflicting pain does not have a plausible justification, it becomes an evil act.
Lewis realized that cruelty to humans is an inevitable consequence of cruelty to animals. Such unchecked cruelty, he wrote, was “a great advance in the triumph of ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism over the ancient world of ethical law; a triumph to which we and the animals have already fallen victim and whose most recent achievements mark Dachau and Hiroshima. When justifying animal cruelty, we also place ourselves on the animal level. We have chosen the jungle and have to stick to our choice. ”
Lewis would surely be concerned to know that while our society has moved in the right direction when it comes to animal cruelty, it has failed to establish the link between what we do to other species and what we do to our own to manufacture. In the UK, the House of Lords is debating laws to prevent cruelty to animals: the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. If passed, the bill would officially recognize animals as sentient beings and set up an animal welfare committee to evaluate policy changes related to animal welfare.
If only everyone in English law had similar defenses. Unfortunately, unborn children in the UK are left without this protection. When I asked if some of the guarantees in the bill could be extended to unborn homo sapiens, I was told that the bill was worded to prevent this from happening.
There is a huge discrepancy between the way our laws treat animals and how they treat unborn humans. For example, the recent Animal (Scientific Practices) Act mandates that animal fetuses be killed in a “humane” manner, but there is no parallel law governing human fetuses.
As Lewis recognized in Vivisection, animal sentience is a complex and controversial scientific issue. He argued that when in doubt, you should go on the side of caution and prudence. Of course, we now know much more about animal sentience than we did in 1947. But this new knowledge pales in comparison to what science has taught us about life in the womb since 1947.
Last year I participated in a fetal pain research organized by eighteen MPs from both Houses. We found that recent studies strongly suggest that unborn children experience pain much earlier than previously thought. In an article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, researchers say there is now “good evidence” that the brain and nervous system that develop at 12 weeks of gestation allow the unborn child to experience pain. One of the researchers is a British “Pro-Choice” pain expert who used to think that unborn babies were born before 24. He’s now on the safe side too.
In the UK, however, babies aborted “through surgical dilatation and evacuation” – described by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as “where the fetus is removed in fragments” – at 20 weeks gestation are not given pain relief. Babies are also not aborted after 22 weeks by “feticide, in which potassium chloride is injected into the heart to cause immediate cardiac arrest”. Human Rights Watch noted that potassium chloride is “excruciatingly painful when administered”. […] without proper anesthesia. “
In 2018, Ross Clark noted in The Spectator, “A Martian looking at us from the outside might well conclude that it is a committee of animals that sets the terms of our political debate.” that if an animal arrives at Westminster’s Carriage Gates with a placard that says “Save Humanity”, we might wake up to the illogical nature of some of our attitudes and laws.
Those who criticize such laws run the risk of being deplatformed or pushed into political no man’s land. This silence in the debate has moved from illogic to ignorance. A 2013 YouGov poll found a shocking 17 percent of Britons don’t believe humans live to birth. Given the brutal reality of abortion, they may not want to take into account that the opposite is true. And government policy seems to imply the same thing.
I have met people who are vehemently advocating abortion – including some who are trying to change the law to allow abortion in all circumstances up to birth – who still consider themselves great advocates of animal rights. We rightly celebrate when charity is offered to animals suffering from a particular injury or disability, yet we allow abortions up to and including birth for people with any type of disability, including cleft lip, palate or clubfoot – not to mention Down syndrome . The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has repeatedly criticized the UK’s discriminatory permits for disabled-selective abortions and proposed a change in the law. But don’t hold your breath and expect Britain to do so soon. We have come dangerously close to self-hatred – hatred of our own species.
As Lewis once wrote, we have to decide every day whether we will “become a creature of glorious glory or a creature of unthinkable horror” and those “who are silent, hurt more”.
Lord David Alton is a member of the House of Lords of the United Kingdom.
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