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FIRST-PERSON: If Terri Schiavo was a dog …

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–“I loved Lucky like he was my son, my little boy,” Adam Riff told USA Today in a recent report. He was not describing a next-door neighbor, cousin or nephew. No, Riff was describing his feelings for his dead dog.

Riff’s quote was included in a feature that highlighted the emerging field of animal rights law. Riff and his mother are suing a Florida veterinarian for malpractice, saying the vet led to the death of their sheepdog.

The Riffs’ lawyer is seeking “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in compensatory damages for the “emotional distress” the loss of the dog has caused mother and son. For the record, the son in question is 26 years old.

It would seem reasonable to hire an attorney to sue a vet for the cost incurred in treating an animal that died in his or her care. It would even be rational to bring a suit for the actual value of the animal. But to litigate on the basis of emotional trauma and loss of companionship seems a bit much.

Surveys indicate that many Americans view their pets on par with people. According to polls, 50 percent of pet owners would “very likely” risk their own life to rescue their pet while 33 percent said they were “somewhat likely” to risk death. In addition, 31 percent said they would take the day off from work if their pet was sick, and 72 percent indicated that upon returning home they greet their pet before they greet their spouse.

I suspect sentimentality causes most pet owners to elevate the status of their pets. For some, however, it is the acceptance of evolution which views man as nothing more than a highly evolved animal. For others it is the embrace of Pantheism, a belief that god is everything and everything is god. Whatever the reason, animal rights attorneys have found fertile ground in American society for their practice.

While the USA Today report focused mainly on the area of veterinarian malpractice, it is only the tip of the proverbial legal iceberg. Animal rights law is focused on a much more ominous goal — to elevate the status of animals to persons under the law.

The majority of animal rights attorneys want to eliminate “speciesism” from society. According to Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University and dubbed the “godfather” of animal rights, speciesism is “the belief that being a member of a certain species makes you superior to any other being that is not a member of that species.”

Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, summed up speciesism this way, “There is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights.” She added, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They’re all mammals.”

Paul Harrison, author and winner of the United Nations Global 500 Award in 1996, has said, “The Universe is divine … natural objects are carriers of that divinity. We are part of the same family, and they [animals] are our brothers and sisters, with equal rights.”

Arguing a case of emotional distress on behalf of a lady whose dog was killed by a police officer, attorney Alan Eisenberg told the Wisconsin Supreme Court, “Times have changed. In the 21st century, I feel a companion dog is part of the human family.”

Once, animal rights advocates were regarded as part of the radical fringe. However, celebrities now champion the cause of animal equality and more than 30 law schools offer courses in animal law. Ordinary citizens now litigate on the basis of emotional distress when a pet is killed or dies accidentally.

While the goal of animal rights lawyers is to elevate the status of animals, all they actually accomplish is the devaluing of human life. Polls repeatedly reveal that the same people who move heaven and earth to save beached whales overwhelmingly support abortion and euthanasia.

If Terri Schiavo, the disabled Florida woman whose estranged husband is seeking to remove her feeding tube so she will starve to death, were a spotted owl or a kangaroo rat, she would have the support of animal rights advocates and their lawyers from sea to shining sea.

Adam Riff loved his dog like a son and he is viewed as caring and compassionate. Terri Schiavo’s parents love her — she is, after all their daughter — and liberal activists view them as overbearing and insensitive.

When “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy” is accepted by society, the boy’s life is diminished.
Kelly Boggs is pastor of the Portland-area Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore. His column appears each Friday in Baptist Press.

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