Policy and Cultural implications
Cultural beliefs, history and prejudice have had an enormous impact on how humans view animal sentience. Most people have over history assumed that many animals feel pain, hunger, thirst, heat, cold, fear, anger and other basic emotions, because we have everyday evidence that they do.
Many societies now accept animal sentience implicitly or explicitly in their legal systems. Many of the laws and regulations for the protection of animals (apart from those concerned merely with conservation of species) clearly assume that at least all vertebrate animals (mammals, birds, fish, etc.) can experience suffering from a variety of causes, for example from pain, discomfort and hunger, as well as fear, anxiety and frustration.
In 1997 the concept of animal sentience was written into the basic law of the European Union. The legally-binding Protocol annexed to the Treaty of Amsterdam recognises that animals are ‘sentient beings’, and requires the EU and its Member States to ‘pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals.’ This recognition of animal sentience has now been incorporated into the main text of the Lisbon Treaty.
The laws of several states include certain invertebrates such as cephalopods (octopuses, squids) and decapod crustaceans (lobsters, crabs) in the scope of animal protection laws, implying that these animals are also judged to be capable of experiencing pain and suffering.
These pages bring together information on the implications of animal sentience for policy, religion, ethics and law and show how these different fields have, in turn, affected our attitudes to animal sentience.