Animals Can Be “Victims” But Are Not Persons

by Wesley J. Smith

Some animal rights activists are engaging in pronounced wishful thinking about an Oregon Supreme Court ruling. The case found that individual animals can be ”victims” under the animal neglect statutes. Some animal rights types have construed the case as somehow ”landmark” and advancing the animals-are-people-too cause.

So, I read the case. Nope. Nyet. Nein. Didn’t happen. 

Context: The defendant was convicted of 20 counts of animal neglect. He tried to weasel out (get it?) of the charge by claiming only humans as “persons” can be “victims.” The Supreme Court disagreed. From Oregon v. Nix:

The ordinary meaning of the word “victim” reflected in a dictionary of common usage is: “1 : a living being sacrificed to some deity or in the performance of a religious rite…

In that light, it can be seen that defendant’s contention that the “plain meaning” of the word “victim” refers only to persons, and not to animals, is predicated on a selective reading of the dictionary definitions. The first sense listed in the definition, for example, refers broadly to “a living being,” not solely to human beings.

The question, then, is simply one of legislative intent:

In concluding that animals are “victims” for the purposes of ORS 167.325 (2), we emphasize that our decision is not one of policy about whether animals are deserving of such treatment under the law. That is a matter for the legislature…

ORS 167.325, protects individual animals from suffering from neglect. In adopting that statute, the legislature regarded those animals as the “victims” of the offense.

So, contrary to activists’ spin, this was not a “landmark” advance for ”animal rights.” Rather, it was a simple case of statutory interpretation that assumes animals are not persons.

We owe a duty to animals not to abuse or neglect them. Hence, this decision is absolutely and fully consistent with human exceptionalism. I approve.

Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.