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For the first time in its history, Harvard Law School will offer a course in animal rights law next spring, law school officials announced last week.
"It is an up and coming field," said Steven M. Wise, who will teach the course as an adjunct professor in the spring. "Harvard both is offering the course because it is an up and coming area, and the fact that they are offering it...makes it more difficult for other schools to dismiss it as having no intellectual value."
The Faculty introduced the course after more than 100 students signed a petition expressing enthusiasm for its offering.
And law school officials said they agreed the course was relevant.
"Many of our students can expect to face an animal law issue at some point in their careers," said Alan Ray, the law school's assistant dean for academic affairs. "The recent expansion of experimental animal cloning is just one example in the intellectual property context where animal law issues have arisen."
Wise--a self-described animal rights advocate and practicing lawyer--has taught a similar course before at Vermont Law School and John Marshall Law School in Chicago. He also wrote a book on the subject, entitled Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals.
"What the course and the book discuss is the fact that there is a thick legal wall that stands between humans and non-humans," Wise said. "What I did in my book is try to look and investigate how non human animals came to be [thought of as] 'things' historically."
According to Wise's course description, a wide variety of issues related to animal rights law will be addressed.
"We will discuss the sources and characteristics of fundamental rights, why humans are entitled to them, why non-human animals have been denied them...and to which legal rights they should be entitled," he wrote.
Wise views animals as autonomous creatures entitled to certain fundamental rights. But he believes the current legal system is outdated and as a result, unable to adequately address animal rights issues.
"At one time it [legal doctrine] fit in well with the way that people understand how the universe ticks," referring to the once common belief that animals lacked intelligence.
According to Wise, research has demonstrated that many animals should be viewed as intelligent, autonomous beings.
"I argue that judges--when they are giving rights--should not look to species, but instead look to autonomy," he said. "Autonomy, and autonomous things are the one's given rights."
Wise, who became interested in animal rights in the 1970s when he read the book Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, believes animal rights law is an increasingly popular field.
"Harvard...is offering the course because it is an up-and-coming area," he said. "[Its offering] makes it more difficult for other schools to dismiss it as having no intellectual value."
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