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LETTERS TO THE TIMES

Just How Close to Human?

September 06, 2003

Re "A Change of Heart About Animals," Commentary, Sept. 1: I disagree with Jeremy Rifkin's idea that science is erasing the differences between humans and animals and the implicit conclusion that animals should be treated like humans. A key difference between animals and humans is animals' lack of "extended consciousness": the awareness of a self that existed in the past and continues into the future. Another difference is the inability of animals to think rationally and reflect on the consequences of their actions.

These intrinsically human abilities provide a depth in time that makes human experience so profoundly meaningful. Animal experience is devoid of this meaning because it cannot be projected further than a narrow present of immediate sensations and needs. Hence, it is incorrect to say that animals experience suffering and love in the full dimension of these feelings.

All this would be nothing more than philosophical pondering if it were not for the goal of some activists to extend animal rights to include the right of not being used and a blanket right to life.

Political pressure to increase animal rights is already leading to some interesting situations. You can do pretty much anything to get rid of a mouse infesting your house, but if a scientist does the same to a lab mouse he will get in trouble with the law. It is not an exaggeration to say that, today, laboratory rats have better medical care than millions of humans. Rifkin writes that in Germany pigs will enjoy "20 seconds of human contact each day and toys to prevent them from fighting."

One could only wish that the same treatment was extended to so many children who are orphaned, have no toys or have to fight in senseless wars. We should keep our priorities straight and work to erase the very real suffering of humans before we become overly concerned with the hypothetical suffering of animals.

Juan Carlos Marvizon

Los Angeles

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Everlasting gratitude to Rifkin for his article. We are at last informed by scientists that animals are more like us than we imagined -- something that many of us nonscientists have known for a very long time. I'm glad to see that they are catching up.

Let's hope that scientists soon discover what many of us nonscientists have also known for a long time: the dangers of flesh-eating and of the proliferation of vaccines and prescription drugs.

Fred Colcer

Tehachapi

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