Animals are legally recognised as ‘sentient’ beings in New Zealand

Animals are legally recognised as ‘sentient’ beings in New Zealand April 4, 2016

This news hit the stands back in 2015, but it is worth resurrecting for some discussion on what denotes sentience, and what properties rights are dependent on.

The New Zealand Government has formally recognised animals as ‘sentient’ beings by amending animal welfare legislation.

The Animal Welfare Amendment Bill  was passed on Tuesday.

The Act stipulates that it is now necessary to ‘recognise animals as sentient’ and that owners must ‘attend properly to the welfare of those animals’.

“To say that animals are sentient is to state explicitly that they can experience both positive and negative emotions, including pain and distress,” said Chair of the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee, Dr Virginia Williams, according to

“The explicitness is what is new and marks another step along the animal welfare journey,” she added.

This underlies the whole debate on human rights (a debate that often involves Peter Singer). What is personhood? What is it that makes a human, a human? Do we lose this humanity when we are asleep? In a coma? Ill with dementia or similar? Do we have it as children? At what point along the continuum of development from blastocyst to octogenarian do humans adopt such sentient personhood?

The idea is that along that developmental continuum as seen in humans, some intelligent animals would also sit. Indeed, NZ has declared that this is the case in indicating that animals can experience things that we associate with humanity – positive and negative emotions – ad this qualifies them for rights as sentient beings. “Sentient” is usually simply defined as “being able to feel or perceive things”. Without being able to directly access such minds, we have to surmise these things from other data. But, it is argued, these animals have sentience, an thus some kind of rights

Animals with human rights – do you agree?

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