Human exceptionalism is a danger to both non-humans and humans

Human exceptionalism is a danger to both non-humans and humans

Jeff Sebo writes:

This January, a 57-year-old man in Baltimore received a heart transplant from a pig. Xenotransplantation involves using nonhuman animals as sources of organs for humans. While the idea of using nonhuman animals for this purpose might seem troubling, many humans think that the sacrifice is worth it, provided that we can improve the technology (the man died two months later). As the bioethicists Arthur Caplan and Brendan Parent put it last year: ‘Animal welfare certainly counts, but human lives carry more ethical weight.’

Of course, xenotransplantation is not the only practice through which humans impose burdens on other animals to derive benefits for ourselves. We kill more than 100 billion captive animals per year for food, clothing, research and other purposes, and we likely kill more than 1 trillion wild animals per year for similar purposes. We might not bother to defend these practices frequently. But when we do, we offer the same defence: Human lives carry more ethical weight.

But is this true?

Most humans take this idea of human exceptionalism for granted. And it makes sense that we do, since we benefit from the notion that we matter more than other animals. But this statement is still worth critically assessing. Can we really justify the idea that some lives carry more ethical weight than others in general, and that human lives carry more ethical weight than nonhuman lives in particular? And even if so, does it follow that we should prioritise ourselves as much as we currently do? [Continue reading…]

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