Altruistic murders

[Versão em português]

Irrelevance of the cause of harms

If we reject speciesism and give moral consideration to nonhuman animals due to their sentience, we must take them into account regardless of the origin of the harms inflicted to them, so moral consideration should be given both to those who suffer from human action as to those who suffer in the wild. It is reasonable to think in which cases their situation is bad or good, then where we must act and with which priority, and finally, look for examples of actions that can reduce the suffering of those animals. This is extremely important because nonhuman animals exist in huge numbers, and usually suffer very intensely.

Within this context, some authors, from consequentialist views, seek to do utility or net value estimates analyzing various consequences of any practice or even analyzing the effects of the lives of some individuals. In short, the net value is positive when the welfare prevails, and negative when suffering predominates; this applies to any processes that affect sentient individuals in any way (whether in nature, in animal agriculture, or as a result of agriculture, urbanization, etc.). Some examples of this approach appear in “ Towards welfare biology: Evolutionary economics of animals consciousness and suffering ” by Yew-Kwang Ng; “ Questions of Priority and Interspecies Comparisons of Happiness ” by Oscar Horta; “ Crop Cultivation and Wild Animals ” by Brian Tomasik.

Although these estimates involve quantities which are difficult to measure, they can be done considering conservative ​​and not exaggerated values and therefore may allow a good notion (often even optimistic or moderate) of the situation of nonhuman animals. Thus, even with those conservative values, the common conclusion of these studies is that a huge number of animals, the vast majority of them, is at a miserable condition, specially a huge number of invertebrates, due to their big population and to the high probability of premature and painful deaths, by causes like predation, disease, parasitism, starvation, weather conditions, etc. Therefore, as the situation in which these animals live is too severe, some authors correctly argue for the need and urgency of supporting interventions to reduce the suffering of those animals, beyond opposing animal exploitation by humans. These interventions can be divided into two groups. First, those interventions that aim to improve wildlife, in short, through technologies, monitoring and provision of support to animals; this idea is particularly advocated by David Pearce. Second, interventions that do not aim to improve wildlife, but to reduce its population (through the use of contraception for instance), since doing so is relatively easier and faster than the first approach, and because aggregate suffering can be estimated as proportional to the size of animal populations. However, in some cases involving the second group, there are disagreements on which interventions should be adopted.

Sacrificing individuals for the greater good

It can be said that the huge amounts of suffering that exist in nature due to predation are a justification for hunting predators, or for other forms of causing their death, in order to prevent suffering of their potential victims (see “ Policyng Nature ” by Tyler Cowen). Another approach says that, in order to reduce the populations of animals, especially invertebrates, in order to reduce their suffering, it’s net positive to change their habitats causing, at the same time, death of many of the individuals living there at that moment, or even to destroy completely those habitats, aiming to prevent the emergence of new generations of animals, and therefore to prevent their suffering. The views behind this seem mostly utilitarian and mainly act-utilitarian. The kind of interventions that involves death of animals, in turn, can also be divided into two types, which may coexist sometimes: interventions that benefit the individual, preventing his future suffering; and those that benefit other individuals, such as preys or the animal’s offspring. Therefore it would be justified to kill some individuals to prevent their own suffering, or for the greater good of a group or larger whole. First it will be addressed the second type. The central argument is that even with some harm to some individuals, the aggregate welfare is larger if they are killed, since many others will no longer suffer or be born to have a miserable life.

However, there are some problems with this approach. It’s possible that hunting predators actually is not net positive, because supporting it explicitly brings about mainly bad consequences. By doing so in order to prevent harms caused by certain animals, negative practices against all animals in general are widespread. Many people who see this message don’t interpret that hunting certain animals would be a means to reduce suffering, instead they are more likely to interpret that it’s OK to kill and to exploit any animals for human interests. Support hunting some animals for the sake of increasing utility is something hardly distinguishable from killing them for human consumption or other anthropocentric or environmentalist interests (such as killing animals from invasive species).

Also, there is much uncertainty about the practical consequences of activities such as hunting. If predators from a certain species are hunted for the purpose of reduce its population, their prey would proliferate and possibly suffer from lack of food or other reasons, moreover, many predators attack prey which in turn are also predators. This occurs, for example, in the case of fishes that eat smaller fishes and other small animals, but are eaten by larger fishes, whales and sharks and would multiply if the latter were hunted, so it could be claimed the need for hunting a multitude of animals to reduce predation and increase utility, which would be quite complicated. So it is unclear whether, hunting certain type of predator, the consequences will be actually reduction or increase in predation and in suffering, or even reduction or increase in the population of predators. Studies show that traps to kill feral cats may actually increase their population and similar results occur with the hunting of other animals .It’s difficult to assess the many consequences of an event, and an unknown or poorly known factor can reverse the calculations, so something estimated in this way as net positive may be actually net negative and vice versa. Thus, it is difficult to say precisely that hunting increase aggregate welfare and bring about the best consequences. By the other hand, alternatives such as contraception can achieve the same positive outcomes more effectively, without harming individuals as hunting does. Therefore, when the exact consequences of some practice are not well enough known and there is a considerable possibility of very bad consequences, like it’s particularly the case of hunting, it’s better to get more knowledge about what may result from this practice before acting, especially if this practice also reinforces ideas that harm nonhuman animals, and to act at the same time through safer alternatives.


When a human being is found in danger, almost everyone agrees that we should provide assistance immediately, even without knowing exactly which are the consequences of this person’s existence. So if we reject speciesism, we should also help if we find any nonhuman animal in that situation, regardless of the species and of the consequences of the animal’s existence. This shows some speciesism in the defense of things such as hunting certain animals, because humans and nonhuman animals are explicitly treated differently in similar cases. Negative consequences are not a justification to cause the death of a sentient individual. In addition to murder not being accepted, aid would hardly be denied if it were a human who were in danger.

Many humans also cause a lot of harm to sentient individuals with their lifestyle. But some differences between humans and nonhuman animals can be raised to strategically justify differential treatment: (1) humans can reciprocate the benefit; (2) causing the death of people unconditionally would make a more violent and less cooperative society; (3) doing so would also be socially outcast, since it would go against the ideas of almost everyone.

But this does not justify such differential treatment. This is because (1) does not apply to people far away (including people who live in nature and kill animals to survive, such as many natives) or unable to return (such as children, elderly, disabled or very poor people) and that’s not a reason to disregard them, so it’s not a reason to disregard some nonhuman animals; even if (2) were a good reason, it would not be enough, because it also applies to nonhuman animals, i.e., it is also important to give full consideration to nonhuman animals in such cases because otherwise speciesism would be strengthened and people would care less and would be violent with them, increasing their suffering; and (3) could wrongly lead people not to worry about natural harms because intervention in nature in large-scale to help nonhuman animals are very badly seen by most people, moreover if (3) were true, it would also be a strong reason to oppose hunting and similar practices because there is quite opposition against them (especially in animal activism) and they would also create a negative image of the idea of intervention to help wild animals.

Another possible argument for giving differential treatment to humans is that, unlike other carnivorous animals and others, humans are moral agents, that is, they can choose to live without causing harms such as predation, and may even help to reduce animal suffering. This potential would be a reason to protect humans and, on the other hand, to kill certain animals. However, this argument overestimates the utility of humanity as a reason to justify this partial protection, as it’s very unlikely that most people will change to help animals, and even if they do so, the impact of a benevolent person may be negative and much greater than the one caused by a predator in the wild, and is even worse in the case of most people, who are not altruists. This is because the various animals that are killed in situations that are difficult to avoid, such as trampling, being run over by cars, agriculture and by other processes indirectly. Human life is sustained by various processes connected to great harm to animals. Due to food, transportation, industry, urbanization, energy generation, consumption and other activities, it’s directly or indirectly caused a lot of suffering to animals, therefore the average amount of harm created by a person probably goes far beyond the harm produced by any individual of another species. This highlights the need and the urgency of changing anthropic processes in order to minimize suffering. Moreover, even in the case of benevolent people, there is a risk of being ineffective or acting wrongly and in practice don’t bring about positive outcomes.

Indeed, the fact that humans are moral agents is another reason against killing nonhuman animals. Unlike most humans, carnivorous animals are not moral agents and the harms they cause are necessary for their survival (although this is not a reason to ignore the problem), thus, rejecting speciesism, their punishment or “policing”, that is, death, has even less sense than it has for humans who are moral agents and cause unnecessary suffering in large part because of futility. In general, punishments like killing are often not accepted even to moral agents, to prevent further harms by people who have committed a very serious crime, so its use against animals is even more senseless. However, if the criticized proposals were adopted without distinction of species, it could lead to mass suicides or mass murders in order to end several harms caused by humans. But genocides are hardly advocated in order to eliminate such harms and get higher net welfare, except in some totalitarian doctrines and dictatorships.

This resembles what happens with ecologists, who often fail to defend holistic views such as the consideration of ecosystems and species instead of (or above) sentient individuals when that views may affect humans. Of course, such environmentalism is speciesist, aside from Pentti Linkola‘s ecofascism, which advocates, even in cases involving humans, for prohibiting migration, killing disabled individuals, stopping technological development, and letting nature take its own course. While the motivation is different in both cases, the reasoning is similar: sacrificing individuals (something considered unacceptable in certain contexts) for the benefit of an abstract entity or collective, in one case, the equilibrium of ecosystems or biodiversity, in the other, utility. This further keeps away the defense of hunting from anti-speciesism, and approximates it to ecologist positions, such as those which advocate killing animals of invasive species, for instance. On the other hand, rejecting hunting highlights the difference between ecologist or anthropocentric and anti-speciesist views and it’s also an incentive to proper treatment of animals.

In addition to causing great suffering, most people don’t care about this issue nor will change their mind, even if they unintentionally contribute to some good consequences. In addition to not worrying about seeking the best consequences for sentient beings, by contrast, most people promote naturalist or anthropocentric ideas (see “ Sobre o bem de tudo e de todos: a conjunção impossível entre ambientalismo e libertação animal” by Catia Faria) that, when implemented, cause a lot of suffering. An ecologist who has a very negative impact (for instance, someone who, in addition to causing animal suffering, promotes reintroducing certain predators and killing animals from invasive species, therefore increasing wild animal suffering), and similarly people who live in nature and kill animals to eat, brings about far worse consequences than the ones caused by a predator, and this is also true for other people in less extreme cases. Humans kill, in an increasing nonlinear rate per person, much more large herbivores than any other predator, whose harms are nearly stable per individual. States are also full of environmental agencies that follow ecocentric or anthropocentric principles, and its performance often harms many animals. But it’s hardly promoted to kill those ecologists and speciesists humans, while the opposite happens to animals whose damage is much lower.

These ideas could be used to promote the death of a huge number of humans because of the suffering caused by them, and as pointed by the paragraphs above, any instrumental consideration given to humans (linked to public relations, to not strongly violate social norms, etc.) also applies when victims are nonhuman animals, if speciesism is rejected and fought. For instance, promoting hunting would create a negative image of ideas on reducing wild animal suffering. Killing humans to maximize net welfare is something that is usually not recommended and doing so would be properly recognized as absurd. Therefore these arguments fail to justify differential treatment between human and nonhuman animals.

Habitat Destruction

Besides the views included in the previous section, there is another argument to exempt harmful humans, and not nonhuman animals, from being killed. It can be said that through the civilizing processes that harm many animals, humankind actually increases utility because habitat destruction prevents new generations, therefore reducing suffering. In fact, in areas that were too modified by human action there is less suffering than in the wild, where trampling, accidents, and non-man-made harms are more numerous because of the larger animal populations. This argument claims that causing the death of animals directly or indirectly through habitat destruction is commendable because it reduces their populations and thus increases net welfare, and it also claims that destroying nature is easier than improving it, because it’s something cheaper and faster than more complex alternatives that would be better if most people supported this cause and if there were many more resources. But resources are limited and there is a difference between what is feasible and what would be ideal, so it is necessary to set priorities and choose where to focus, and in the real scenario, probably there will be less suffering if we focus in interventions such as habitat destruction, which are the most feasible options.

But if habitat destruction brings about positive consequences, it does not follow that it’s a justification to give differential treatment to humans compared to other sentient beings. One reason is that habitat destruction is a consequence of complex and large collective processes such as urbanization and agriculture and rarely of the actions of human individuals taken separately. Their participation is negligible except perhaps in small communities, so each human individual has very little importance and merit in the good consequences that these processes may have, and as the negative effects that humans cause to sentient individuals far outweigh this small share, it’s not enough to justify this differential treatment compared to nonhuman animals. Even if there are several positive effects, it is not fair to applaud humankind’s actions, without acknowledging and rejecting their enormous negative and unnecessary effects to nonhuman animals.

So again it is interesting to compare habitat destruction with what would be done if there were human victims, in order to avoid speciesism. In the case of humans it may be rejected even to dislodge people and to intervene in their migrations, let alone destroy their homes and kill individuals. It would not be applauded to do so in a rural area urbanizing it and thus preventing natural harms. Although proper aid to animals such as insects is much more difficult than assistance to humans, killing people in extremely miserable situation, in which suffering clearly predominates, by destroying the places where they live in order to avoid current and future suffering would not be accepted as a solution. Obviously it would be rejected and would be sought other ways to help, even if it takes longer and costs more money than merely killing people. As in cases involving humans, causing the death of animals to get good consequences means to morally unacceptably betray them. And the same comments made in the previous section apply here.

Views that promote anything that is less bad than status quo instead of seeking what is the best thing that can be done ignore alternatives and are too simplistic. Suppose, for instance, that someone finds a baby drowning, and nobody except that person can help, but then she decides the easier thing to do is to shoot him in order to prevent his suffering, rather than make a greater effort and rescue him. Indeed doing so is less worse than doing nothing, but consequentialism involves choosing something when there is no better or less bad alternative, and this is widely recognized in cases involving humans. So act utilitarians who don’t accept a general rule, for instance, against killing sentient beings have no reason to promote killing them in these situations, since there are better or less bad options such as contraception. It does not apply only to the options that are already available. If the alternatives mentioned are not widely available now, and, rather than supporting killing animals now, we wait for or promote these alternative, the best consequences are more likely to be obtained in the long term, because in doing so there won’t be the same harms and proper regard to nonhuman animals will be encouraged.

It’s correct to assess the events of the past and its consequences, such as habitat loss and the reduction in animal populations due to deforestation, which occurred simultaneously to the death of much individuals. Similarly, one can recognize that unfortunate things like human slavery, carnivorous diets and animal agriculture produced some good consequences for others throughout history, but that does not prevent the harms caused by human or nonhuman slavery from being mourned with indignation and doesn’t mean that slavery is currently justified for bringing about good consequences, especially since it’s possible to get these consequences by other means, though perhaps with more difficulty. Similarly, it can be stated that habitat destruction fortunately reduce suffering since it prevents new generations, although it’s regretted the suffering caused to the affected individuals at the time, but this is different from defending these practices indiscriminately today as there are other options to achieve the same goals, although with more difficulty.

Indirect consequences of habitat destruction and how it instrumentally affects sentient beings should also be taken into account. Focusing on good consequences of habitat destruction can lead to an uncontrolled and excessive destruction which could cause climate change and conflicts, for example. Extinction on a very large scale can also be regrettable because (except for some negative utilitarians) destroying all or most nonhuman sentient life, we lose possible future scenarios containing happy and net positive lives that won’t exist in this case. Although suffering currently outweighs happiness in the wild, future happy and untimed ecosystems should not be discarded at the cost of huge but limited amounts of current suffering. But it’s necessary to clearly differentiate the defense of environmentalism from the defense of sentient beings made here. While the former is concerned with the preservation of biodiversity and with the balance of ecosystems, or worships natural processes, what is being defended here is the moral consideration of nonhuman animals that live in nature and the protection of the interest of these individuals.

And as there are many people who promote hunting or habitat destruction currently (almost always with anthropic motives), it doesn’t make sense to support these practices at the same time supporting indirectly the harmful interests behind them in order to help wild animals, and instead it’s necessary to explicitly expose its negative outcomes. So, instead of uncontrolled destruction, it should be promoted to change habitats minimizing harms to animals in the process and it also shouldn’t be ignored other strategies to reduce populations and natural harms without harming individuals. Among them, there are contraceptive methods, genetic modification, in vitro meat, and other technologies (as David Pearce argues through his ideas on The abolitionist Project and Compassionate Biology); all these alternatives are less harmful than activities that involve killing.

Helping the individual. Humane insecticides

So far, it was mostly addressed the idea of ​​sacrificing individuals to benefit others, in order to demonstrate that it has a lot of problems. But how about causing death to end the suffering of the individual himself? It may be argued that many animals have lives in which negative experiences are more common than positive ones, therefore their lives are not worth living. Ending their lives is to spare them from a great amount of suffering, similarly to euthanizing someone who is suffering a lot and there is no hope of being healed. Unlike those in favor of killing to protect others, this argument is not affected by the speciesism accusation in the same way, since the goal here is the good of the animal himself.

There may even be certain advantages of killing compared to other interventions. The differences between killing and using alternatives such as contraception may not be very intuitive. Large-scale contraception undoubtedly generates less human-caused suffering than practices such as hunting and habitat destruction, but will them actually reduce the amount of suffering experienced by the individual, considering that anyway the creature and also its possible victims will die painfully in nature? And, once again, solutions such as contraception, of course, would be better if most people were concerned about wild animal suffering and if there were enough resources available to be used on a large scale, but unfortunately that’s not the case.

A particular issue related to this is the use of “humane insecticides” to kill insects with less suffering, especially in agriculture, since in organic crops there are probably more bugs and therefore probably more suffering. Possible alternatives such as repellents, contraception and some bioengineering techniques are very welcome, however, as stated above, they don’t make the deaths of affected individuals less painful, because they only prevent suffering of future generations (which is already a major breakthrough), while the current generation will still suffer much more than it would if humane insecticides were used. As already noted, perhaps speciesism accusations are not valid in this case because, although “humanitarian homicides” are rejected, sentient invertebrates stands out and are far worse than any human and other vertebrates, which are more likely to have lives worth living. Invertebrates typically have a huge number of offspring, most of which dies prematurely. Perhaps it’s worth making an analogy between the situation of these invertebrates and sick people who suffer a lot and have no hope of being healed, so it’s decided to alleviate their suffering through euthanasia.

However, though quick deaths are much better than slow ones, these individuals should not be disregarded even if they suffer a lot, and eliminating them when there is some considerable possibility of positive experiences is still a harm. There is controversy about the relative weight of the interest in living compared to the interest in not suffering, and about the relative weight of positive and negative experiences, so it is uncertain when one exceeds the other and in which cases a life is worth continuing. Anyway, the points made in the previous sections also apply here. Needlessly killing animals with lives worth living instead of employing alternatives is not interesting, even if these animals are in small proportion. There is no way to choose which will die among individuals with lives worth living and those who suffer a lot (imagine killing healthy humans to end the suffering of many other individuals). Insecticides would also kill more animals in other areas through transportation by water, including vertebrates (which are more likely to have lives worth living). It should be emphasized that these unwanted deaths obviously take place in habitat destruction too. Therefore, there would always be many healthy individuals killed without need. Magnus Vinding mentions another problem in his book Speciesism: Why It Is Wrong, And The Implications of Rejecting It :

But is killing necessarily a harm? What if it is done painlessly?”

As any study of methods that are meant to kill painlessly makes clear (see for instance Derek Humphry’s Final Exit), there is no sure way to bring about a painless death in the real world, and that fact alone puts this notion that killing is not a harm to sleep for good. Sentient beings do not come with any off button. They come with resilient bodies, all of them different, and all of them programmed to take up a tough fight for life almost regardless of what is thrown at them, be it cyanide, bullets or high voltage.

Therefore, other long-term solutions are better and deserve greater focus. Insect populations can be reduced by making them have more male than female descendants, making them have (fewer) sterile offspring or sterilizing them . These techniques have been successfully used in large scale to prevent diseases in humans and also in crop cultivation . Therefore contraception and other techniques can be widely promoted in a relatively short time to prevent invertebrate suffering without need for insecticides. The development of other technologies to help these animals and the promotion of the ones that are already feasible are very important things. As David Pearce says, the main obstacle is not technical feasibility, but moral and social acceptance.

It may be said that when the negative experiences are prevalent, as in the case of invertebrates, killing ceases to be a harm, even if there is some likelihood of positive experiences. However, this objection does not comply with what would be done in many cases involving humans, because before performing euthanasia on a sick person, various ways to save her life are usually tried, even if it involves many costs, a lot of time and suffering for the patient, and furthermore the development of new effective treatments is always encouraged and applauded as a major priority. One reason for this is the possibility of future positive experiences, although cultural or religious influence may also be involved. In the case of people oppressed in extremely miserable conditions, suffering from hunger and poverty (this example may be more appropriate than euthanasia in a hospital patient, as it also involves potential healthy individuals or individuals likely to have lives worth living among the others), death is rarely pointed as a solution to avoid their suffering, even if it is much more difficult and expensive to help by other means, if positive experiences are unlikely and if their condition will hardly improve in the short term. As we have seen, there is no reason to treat humans differently in these cases, despite the current greater difficulties to help beings such as invertebrates. So in many cases killing individuals who suffer may not be the best solution. This excerpt from Boycott veganism emphasizes it:

One of our dear family friends, when I was growing up, was a girl with a severe neurological disorder called multiple sclerosis. She has been in a wheelchair since childhood, and can barely move her arms. She is trapped in the cage of her own body, and suffering has become a part of her life. She is periodically hospitalized—any sort of everyday infection can induce respiratory or cardiac failure, because her health is so fragile. I remember visiting my friend as a child, when she was attached to a respirator. She could not do anything more than open her eyes and nod her head. I was overwhelmed with sadness, fear, and pity afterwards, and asked my parents why God would so such terrible things to such a beautiful and innocent girl. (I was raised an Evangelical Christian).

Yet despite her profound suffering, my friend has lived a meaningful life—and one far longer than doctors anticipated. (She is now in her 30s.) And at no point did anyone suggest that she would be better off dead, or that the world would be a better place if she did not exist. Far from it, despite her disabilities and suffering, her life has value. She can converse with people, when she is not ill; she has desires and awareness; and she hopes and dreams for a cure before her disease takes her life. Her life is worth living, despite her profound disability.

The point I am trying to make is that a life of suffering is not valueless. There are good things that come with life, as well as bad, for all of us. And for us to say that some other person’s life is meaningless, (much less bad for the world!) because it involves too much pain or discomfort, is an affront to that person’s individual dignity and autonomy.

We should say the same for non-human animal persons. Yes, they may suffer and die, if they are born in factory farms.[…] Every human with MS, and every poor piglet in a factory farm, is an invaluable individual, who has as much right to existence, and to the bounty of this world, as the rest of us.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t fight to end terror, exploitation, and injustice— whether it comes from sources natural or political. We absolutely should do everything we can to make sure that every suffering girl with MS, and every individual piglet in a factory farm, can one day run happy and free.[…]

As in the above example, there may be many cases in which the life of a wild animal, expected to be short and worthless, is longer and more significant for the individual and for his fellows. Living like animals in factory farms or like most animals in the wild may be worse than not being born, and it’s necessary to reduce the number of individuals in these poor conditions (and also to perform euthanasia in extreme cases), but that does not mean that, when there is some potential to improve their situation, in the case of wild animals mainly by technologies combined with human assistance, the best thing to do is to kill them.

There is another problem in the idea of killing to help the individual, except in extreme cases where euthanasia would indeed be the best thing to be done. Even if all the criticisms here were wrong and even if in many cases killing is correct and the best for the individual, nevertheless promoting it indiscriminately has the serious danger of bring about bad consequences, as well as in the case of hunting. Large-scale deaths would possibly compromise concern for sentient animals, since most people could interpret that it’s OK to kill them for human interests as it’s currently done, and not to prevent their suffering. So killing animals for anthropocentric reasons would be encouraged, since habitat destruction and insecticides are typically and historically used for anthropocentric reasons. Therefore other practices that harm animals would be strengthened and suffering would probably increase.

Thus, although the subject of humane insecticides and other means of killing to help individuals in extreme cases deserve to be further assessed, we should be really careful because of the unwanted death of healthy individuals, the possibility of death not being actually “humane” (though obviously there are more or less painful ways to die), the existence of alternatives that may be more cost-effective, the possible speciesism present in the differential treatment in relation to humans, and the risk of weakening concern for nonhuman animals.


Throughout this essay several analogies between cases involving humans and cases involving other animals were made, in order to question the validity of some ideas and try to demonstrate the bias in favor of humans in many of them. These analogies are certainly valid in many cases, but examples in witch they are not could also be thought. One possible reason is that there are many occasions (mainly in r-strategist species) in witch the situation of nonhuman animals is much worse. For instance, when someone advocates the use of repellents or contraception, it could be answered with an analogy saying that, in cases involving humans, repelling people from their homes or forcing them to take contraceptives involuntarily would be something tyrannical and unacceptable. But the fact is that it is simply impossible today to act in a better way with beings such as insects because their populations are huge and they are in a much more painful situation than humans, so that there is no way to give them a fate as comfortable as it is given to humans. Simply, using repellents or contraceptives and preventing new generations would probably be much better than killing them or leaving them to die more painfully through harvest, handling operations, predation, starvation or other causes. As these animals are in a much worse situation, changes that are unacceptable when the consequences are suffered by humans are acceptable and positive for animals though not ideal, because their situation now is much worse.

However, this reasoning can’t always be applied successfully in the topic under discussion because it doesn’t match the case of hunting and habitat destruction, as there are other less harmful ways to reduce populations and to change habitats, and because of the likely negative consequences it would have, as already mentioned. A topic that deserves a more detailed approach is in which cases the analogy between animals and humans is valid and in which it’s not. Anyway, when the typical life of some kind of animals is considered so severe that there is no prospect of getting them to a decent state, and when analogies with humans are impertinent, these animals remain important individuals who deserve proper assistance and protection. It can also be imagined, as sought in this text, extreme scenarios in which the situation of humans reasonably represents the situation of nonhuman animals.

Views that propose that animals suffer serious harms to benefit a collectivity need to explain whether it is right to act the same way when the victims are humans, which is almost always denied. The fascist idea that attempts to justify sacrificing or exploring some individuals for the greater good is a big problem. It’s advocated by dictators and totalitarian groups and the same mistake is made ​​by ethical holistic naturalists and ecofascists, when they place biodiversity, ecosystems and the natural balance above sentient individuals. It would be very bad if this mistake, combined with speciesism, were also made to try to reduce animal suffering. As to killing an individual to reduce his own suffering, there are also a series of facts contrary to this view.

These conclusions may be more easily accepted, for example, by advocates of rights theory, rule-utilitarianism and prioritarian and egalitarian consequentialism (in the latter, beyond the total sum, its distribution among individuals is also important). Utilitarians and mainly act-utilitarians, however, should also note that it is unclear whether practices such as hunting and habitat destruction will bring about greater aggregate welfare, since they may increase suffering in other trophic levels or worsen problems like climate change and armed conflicts. In addition, the defense of the actions criticized here would also lead the anti-speciesist cause and the pursuit of reducing animal suffering to be confused with environmentalists and anthropocentric causes, which promote practices that harm animals, and thus bring about very bad consequences in the long term. On the other hand, the text sought to show that the explanations given in some cases to give differential treatment to humans are not justified. Considering these problems, the real consequences of practices that kill nonhuman animals can be disastrous, and such practices should be abandoned in favor of alternatives.

We will not solve the problem of natural harms with optimal speed because currently the resources and supporters are very few, so we need to establish priorities for action. But that’s no reason to take as priorities actions that involve killing sentient individuals, as the text sought to demonstrate exposing the problems and dangers of doing so. It is better to give priority to safer measures, even if they have higher costs and other disadvantages, which, however, are very little compared to the analyzed problems and dangers of lethal options. It’s also necessary to focus on the spread of ideas against speciesism, biocentrism and ecocentrism. Therefore interventions to reduce animal suffering should reject murders.

I would like to thank Brian Tomasik and Luciano Cunha for their comments and criticisms.

Last update: 31 Mar. 2016

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