The Hartford Courant ran a story in early April about the objections from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other groups over the military’s use of dolphins and other animals in prosecuting the war in Iraq. But what caught my eye were the comments of Joyce DiBenedetto-Colton, coordinator of the Miami-Dade Community College Animal Ethics Study Center.
On first glance one might assume that an Animal Ethics Study Center might be devoted to the various aspects of the debate over the treatment of animals. DiBenedetto-Colton’s center, however, is essentially an animal rights organization. DiBenedetto-Colton serves as the advisor for MDCC’s Students’ Organization for Animal Rights, and you can get a flavor of the Animal Ethics Study Center’s agenda by taking a look at the program for the center’s Fourth Annual Animal Awareness Week — Through Their Eyes,
- Gene Bauston
- Steven Wise
- Ken Shapiro
- Susan Hargreaves
Sheesh — why not just come clean and call it the Miami-Dade Community College Center for the Promotion of Animal Rights?
Anyway, the Hartford Courant asked DiBenedetto-Colton about the use of animals by the military and she gave them a series of question that she says she asks to determine whether or not it is ethical to use animals for military purposes,
Is it a job that humans have done? In the case of the dolphins identifying mines, the answer is clearly yes, she said.
Are these dolphins doing the task willingly? Certainly, she says. “Dolphins can be very cooperative and perform these things willingly.”
Where things get dicey, she said, is the questions “Are they aware they are taking on great risk?” Here the answer in Iraq is probably no, she said.
As in the case of a soldier, she said, “If we knowingly send someone to their death without their consent, then is that orally right I think we have to say, no, it is not.”
DiBenedetto-Colton said she believes handlers should also get an animal’s consent before placing the animal in danger. With a highly intelligent animal like a dolphin, that may be possible, she said.
DiBenedetto-Colton is joined in this assessment by Wesleyan philosophy professor and Peter Singer collaborator Lori Gruen. Gruen intones that “War does a number on animals,” and adds that using dolphins as mine detectors is only moral if the dolphins are not deceived by their handlers,
Wesleyan’s Gruen, saying she did not have a good sense of the risk involved for the dolphins, said it was important in either case not to deceive an animal.
“To them, what they are doing may appear as a game,” Gruen said, in effect exploiting and deceiving them, which she said would be “objectionable.”
“There is an element of responsibility; humans have to treat the animals well, and treat them in ways that don’t put them at risk,” Gruen said.
Gruen is the author of articles with titles like, “Dismantling Oppression: an analysis between women and animals.” In the 1980s she was associated with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and campaigned against animal research with that group saying, “Scientists aren’t going to be able to do anything without a public backlash.”
Our animal allies. Steve Grant, The Hartford Courant, April 4, 2003.
Laboratory Primate Newsletter. Volume 25 Number 3 July 1986.