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Animal rights first requires animal-friendly society

I enjoyed your column on animal law very much ("Animal rights:the great debate," Aug. 25). Genetic similarity is not a basis for rights. While the lay public may sooner grant a chimpanzee moral rights before sharks, because of their similarity to humans, humans are not the defining model of who deserves rights.

Sentience is the capacity to sense, minimally considered as just sensing pain. The animal rights platform, as I understand it, is to allow life and liberty to all who want it unless they threaten another's life and liberty, and to keep safe from pain to all who can feel pain. This includes everyone in the animal kingdom, including humans. It is not an issue of elitism, which human law has always embodied (denying rights to minorities has always been foundational in human law), but of who needs protection.

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Our culture is married to animal abuse, so there will be a lot of litigation as we implement the "divorce." Call it growing pains or animal emancipation, every culture which loses a market it's always exploited, whether slave labor, child labor, whale hunting, or poaching elephants, the shift from an animal-abusing to an animal-friendly culture is necessary for the ethical responsibility humans have to others regardless of their genetic makeup.

The fact that an animal can feel pain obligates us not to inflict pain. Yes, it is best for the animals to have legal protection against their wholesale slaughter and torture and false imprisonment. For even if it's a clumsy climb up the legal ladder, we must achieve, and remain on, the moral high ground.

Jerry Friedman Los Angeles

Our current laws allow us to test caustic, painful chemicals on animals merely to bring to market the latest and trendiest cosmetics. We wear the skins of other sentient beings, many of which are trapped using the brutal steel-jawed leghold trap which also grasps and kills nontarget animals such as dogs, cats - even "protected" bald eagles.

We eat the flesh of adult and baby cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals raised in brutal confinement and slaughtered using methods crueler than those at Auschwitz.

Then there are dancing elephants, pit-bull fights and cockfights, "canned" hunts, and "snuff" films. I therefore applaud the courageous and foresighted attorneys who are challenging our current legal system. We do need a new ethic where other sentient species are not considered property.

Constance Young Pine Plains, N.Y.

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Is a missile shield enough?

A missile shield system to defend the United States against ballistic missiles overlooks one important point: the threat is not the transporter missile, but the nuclear bomb it carries (editorial, "Missile shield: not quite yet," Aug. 30).

Assume we develop a perfect defense system. A country could simply give a nuclear bomb to some terrorist group to smuggle into the US and transport by truck to the target city. The attacking country is unknown. Then what is your defense strategy? The best solution is a program to gather and place all bomb-grade nuclear material under control of responsible nations.

Stan Logue San Diego, Calif.

Using resources to help the homeless

Thank you for the article "Seeking shelter for the invisible homeless" (Aug. 25). It is the type of reporting that only the Monitor provides.

Citizens should remember that every dollar Congress gives to the Pentagon is a dollar taken from domestic programs, such as the homeless, Head Start, child nutrition, and aid to the poor of other countries.

Joseph Towle East Weymouth, Mass.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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