Sentience, biological imperatives and personal interests

A sentient being – unlike a chair or table – cannot have an “owner” in the usual sense.

The relationship must be more like that between a legal ward and her legal guardian (or caretaker or parent).

Guardians must be entitled to go to court in the interest of their ward.

If the animal being has no guardian, or if the guardian does not act in her interests, she must become the legal ward of the court, which must act in her interests.

Without this the notion of “well-being” is voided of meaning — and with it the notion of a sentient being with biological imperatives (= interests) that must not be violated.

This is why no one (including the “owner”) can do whatever they like to their dog, unlike to their chair.

Why? Because a dog, as a sentient being, has an interest in her own well-being (in not having her biological imperatives violated: deprived of food, water, shelter, space, freedom of movement, social imperatives, freedom from pain, freedom from fear, freedom from stress). That is what it is to be a sentient being. Chairs have no interest.

It is incoherent to enshrine this interest in law, formally recognizing animal sentience and its biological imperatives, yet not accord that interest legal standing in court.

It was explicitly in order to distinguish a sentient being from an insentient object without any interests that Quebec’s AWSA (BESA) law was adopted.

That is why the sentience law implies, both logically and practically, that the legal status of “owner” likewise needs to be updated to make it conform and cohere with the animal being’s status of sentient being.

That is why the status of guardian or parent is much more appropriate and natural than “owner” in the case of a sentient being as opposed to an insentient object.

A sentient being has biological imperatives and it thus has (like all sentient beings) a personal interest (even without needing to be declared a legal “person”) in not having its own biological imperatives violated. Being sentient means being capable of feeling pain and suffering if one’s biological imperatives are violated.

The only way to resolve, logically and fairly, the inconsistencies described above (owner, property, insentient object, sentient being, biological imperative, interest, guardian/caretaker/parent) will be to develop a new legal category of agent, other than “ordinary owner,” for those who have the care of a sentient being (human or non-human). If biological imperatives were not personal interests, the distinction between insentient objects and sentient beings would be empty and meaningless.

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