Animal dignity

The Swiss federal constitution recognises the inherent dignity of every living being. Animals are recognised as having intrinsic value. With this principle, the concept of human dignity is also applied to non-human creatures. In theory, if an animal is harmed without weighing up the competing interests, their dignity is deemed to have been disregarded. The Swiss Animal Welfare Act does not honour this principle. A pig may have 0.9 square metres of space in Switzerland instead of the minimum of 0.75 square metres required by EU law, but the bottom line remains the same: Profit comes first.

We believe that a reasonable interpretation of animal dignity means that the interests of all sentient animals are taken into account. This belief has a long tradition. In 1789, the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham stated that sentience should be the determining factor when considering a living being from a moral standpoint. According to Bentham, criteria such as intelligence or the ability to speak are irrelevant for the moral status of a being. Not all humans are able to count, or to philosophise about morality, but all are capable of experiencing happiness and suffering. For this reason, we believe that people should be treated equally. Non-human animals are also able to have a subjective experience of life.

Our solutions

This principle of equal consideration of interests should be extended to non-human animals. It is ethically problematic to ignore the interests of a living being simply on the basis of its species. This does not mean that all animals should be treated equally to humans – interests that do not exist do not need to be considered. For example, a chimpanzee has no interest in taking part in a public referendum. There is therefore no reason to stand up for their political rights. However, where comparable interests exist, these should be taken into consideration equally. At the very least, this means that the physical and mental integrity of all sentient animals must be protected.

For Sentience, it is clear that animal dignity, as guaranteed in the Swiss constitution, is not lived up to in practice. This is why we launched the Primate Initiative in Basel. It aimed to anchor the fundamental right to life and integrity for non-human primates in the constitution. It would have set a global precedent. On 13 February 2022, around a quarter of Basel’s population voted in favour of the initiative. It was not enough for a “yes” vote. However, the Federal Court’s decision to allow a vote on basic rights for animals, and the media debate around the initiative, created momentum on the subject of animal dignity. It paved the way for future campaigns focussing on the interests of those animals who cannot advocate for themselves.

Latest articles on this topic

The “invisible” animals need your help

The “invisible” animals need your help

Acknowledging the capacity for suffering as a crucial moral criterion is the core concern of Sentience. Therefore, we aim to give a voice to those animals whose well-being receives no attention in our society - the “invisible” animals.

The “invisible” animals need your help
We need a strong counterweight

We need a strong counterweight

The significant gains made by the agricultural lobby in the parliamentary elections of autumn 2023 pushed sustainable Swiss agriculture with location-adapted food production even further into the distant future.

We need a strong counterweight
Annual Report 2023

Annual Report 2023

The landmark votes on the Primate Initiative and the Initiative to Abolish Factory Farming in 2022 sparked significant attention and much-needed discussions. Last year, we were able to build on this momentum and advance our vision with broad support.

Annual Report 2023
Interspecies diplomacy: ever a possibility?  Decoding

Interspecies diplomacy: ever a possibility? Decoding

Despite the current Swiss political scene, the environmental emergency continues, and its impact on all beings is evermore pressing. And so, we must start now to think about what engaging diplomatically with non-human animals will look like.

Interspecies diplomacy: ever a possibility? Decoding
One donation, double the impact ✊

One donation, double the impact ✊

Our voice for the animals is more important than ever. Until the end of December, every donation to Sentience will be doubled. For you, this means: one donation, double the impact!

One donation, double the impact ✊
A strong alliance for animals

A strong alliance for animals

In collaboration with organizations that supported the initiative to abolish factory farming last year, we devoted two days to exploring ways to enhance the well-being of animals in Swiss agriculture.

A strong alliance for animals
Sentience becomes the hundredth member of the Open Wing Alliance

Sentience becomes the hundredth member of the Open Wing Alliance

Sentience is the first Swiss organization to join the alliance, which was founded in 2016. In doing so, our organization is committing to become an even stronger advocate for the interests of chickens at home and abroad in the future.

Sentience becomes the hundredth member of the Open Wing Alliance
Key Learnings 2022

Key Learnings 2022

Both of our initiatives represented landmark achievements for Sentience. They shaped the public discourse in 2022 and contributed to the slow inculcation of animal ethics into mainstream society. Yet, there is room for improvement.

Key Learnings 2022

Contact

Philipp Ryf
Philipp Ryf
Managing Director, Head of Campaigns & Politics
More about Philipp Ryf

Further topics

Agriculture

Agriculture

Agriculture
Consumption

Consumption

Consumption