This conversation is closed.

When is it is wrong to take away the autonomy of an organism?

I was watching several talks on bio-engineering videos in a playlist, and the last video was a talk about ethics. I watched the whole video, and during most of the examples shown, I did not have a problem with the experiments, until he got to the insects hooked up to computer chips. I was absolutely fine with glowing kittens and rats with human ears sticking out of them, but taking away the autonomy of another living thing felt wrong to me. A simple roach, controlled by way of a chip hooked up to its brain elicited a response of wrongness in me that I did not fully understand. After all, it is just a roach, it wont live long anyway; yet this was not right to me. After considering it for a few minutes, I came to the conclusion that, if it is born to be a rat, it should be a rat. If you can breed it, or change it while it is still developing in the womb to follow your commands, then that is fine.

This led to another question. Isn't putting a bird in a cage controlling the bird? Isn't it just as bad? It isn't. When you put a bird in a cage, you are restricting its range of decisions, not determining them. The bird can choose to squawk or sing, but in the end it is the birds choice.

This question can be put in many different scenarios and circumstances, but what i am looking for is a simple, basic rule for when it is wrong or right.

  • May 11 2014: Nathaniel,

    There is no rule.

    'Right' and 'Wrong' in this, or any number of other adult decisions, is a personal decision. You must take the guidance and knowledge gained from communicating with parents, siblings, peers, teachers, and others that have influential opinions in your life and decide these boundaries for yourself. Often, society offers guidance in the way of laws, religious doctrine, or just public opinion. However, these change depending on where you live, the culture you were raised in, and your own value system. All of these things also change over time.

    The degree of empathy you show for living creatures is something pretty deep in your personal development, and since everyone is different and has been exposed to different things, there is no right answer.

    I think it is possible to still respect life and do meaningful research with animals that is not cruel or in humane. I know many that feel the same way. Many of these people would go out of their way to help any living creature and have actually made it their life's work to make things better for all living creatures (doctors, medical researchers, etc.). I think they see the greater good in learning from animals how to make life better for all animals. Without this type of investigation, new treatments for sick humans and other animals would not be possible.

    There are also those that believe that any of this is tampering with nature and playing God. I understand this belief and respect it. They are good people and truly concerned that man's dominance in the animal kingdom should not come at the expense of other species.

    Others are somewhere in the middle, depending on how they value empathy, scientific research, and man's role in nature. I think most would agree needlessly killing anything is wrong.

    So there is no simple basic rule, it is more complicated than that and will require some personal reflection. Think about it and decide what is right for YOU!
  • May 9 2014: I hate to start out with a religious quote, but when the Bible says that God gave Man dominion over animals I don't think that meant we get to enslave them however we wish or otherwise dominate them. To me, it means that we are the caretakers of the lesser animals. We are similar to a King and his peasants: yes they are ruled over by the King, but a good King takes good care of his people.

    There are degrees of sentience in animals. A roach is pretty low, not much more than a set of instructions on a computer chip. A domesticated dog or cat, however, is not only more physically advanced but has begun the climb to sentience. They are capable of emotions, love, fear, loyalty - normal human emotions. I personally feel a greater empathy towards domesticated animals than I do towards other humans. We have, by virtue of our superior brains if not by Divine writ, complete control over their lives. That does not mean we get to snuff them out on a whim, but rather that we have an obligation to ensure their safety, health and wellbeing. In return we get loyalty, companionship and love without judgement. By contrast, a human, even a child, will develop their own morality which might not turn out to be a good one. I think it was Mark Twain who said: 'If you take a starving dog and feed it and make it prosperous it will not bite you. This is the primary difference between a dog and a Man.'

    So: to answer your questions:
    Computer-controlled roaches: creepy
    Rats as hosts for ears/human parts: necessary due to our limited ability to develop artificial means to do the same thing.
    Breeding/Changing in the womb: leads to Brave New World and a caste system for humans.
    Bird in a Cage: Morally worst of all your examples. Its torturing another creature because you feel like it should exist for your enjoyment. I feel the same way for every animal in a cage. Zoos only get a pass from me if they attempt open-environment compounds or to save a species.