Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer popularized “speciesism,” a derogatory term for the belief that it is acceptable to treat humans differently from animals based solely on species membership. Singer identified this idea as a form of discrimination, as odious as racism and sexism.
Speciesism is universally condemned within the animal rights movement (as distinguished from animal welfare advocacy), which holds, in the words of PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk, “There is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” Which is to say, animals and humans have equal moral worth.
The bioethics movement also disdains speciesism. Many of its adherents refuse to acknowledge the sanctity and equality of human life, instead taking the so-called “quality of life” approach, which determines the moral value of each organism—whether human, animal, or plant—by measuring its individual cognitive capacities. Whatever is self-aware or able to value its own life (for example) is designated as a “person,” even if it is an animal, while people lacking these attributes are denigrated as human “non-persons”—an invidious category that includes all of the unborn, as well as (for many bioethics practitioners) infants and those with profound cognitive disabilities.
Advocates of the term “speciesism” believe that designating a special status for humans is irrational. They are wrong. In fact, they are the ones ascribing to an ideology—merely the most recent of many in human history—that attempts to rationalize discrimination and oppression against some of us based on subjective criteria, this time with victims the least able to defend themselves.
Read more at First Things.