Monday, July 13, 2009

Animal Rights and Teaching Ethics

In my Introduction to Ethics class last year I taught food ethics, including animal rights, for the first time. I've shied away from the topic in the past, thinking that the students--or, at least, the students at places where I've taught--would consider it too fringe to make a direct connection with the underlying thought patterns.

On the final exam I asked a question, "What is the most memorable, challenging, or thought-provoking idea that was raised in this class?" 

The most popular, though least illuminating, answer was along the lines of "ethical theories." The second most common answer had to do with a film we watched about farm animal rights, called Wegman's Cruelty. I was surprised by this large response, particularly since discussions after the film were short and shallow.

The film documents animal-rights activists, led by Adam Durand, breaking into the Wegman's egg farm to (illegally) investigate whether the farm violates animal cruelty guidelines. It did, and the footage is dramatic. The case occurred in 2004.

I learned yesterday that Adam Durand is one of my neighbors, and that he has a court date for resentencing tomorrow. His original sentence was illegal and was appealed to the state supreme court. Our court system is often described as biased in favor of defendants. While that's true, there is also a clear bias toward entities that have the money and the power to drag court cases out for years and years. How surprising that this case, a minor case of trespassing, has been in the system for 5 years!

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