Human interaction with the rest of animal life is extremely varied and complex. We use animals, notably dogs and horses, for physical tasks, work and recreation. And many, many people incorporate animals into their daily lives, sometimes even elevating them to the status of surrogate offspring. Further, many of us will eat them at the drop of a menu.
According to the Bible, humans were given hegemony over animals as part of God's plan, presumably with certain responsibilities along with the authority. God aside, humans assume their superiority based on their greater intelligence. We assume ourselves to be the top of the food chain, though that would be a laughable assumption without our technological advantages. Wrestled an unmuzzled bear recently?
We also use animals as human replacements in dangerous situations. The first earthlings to venture into outer space were not human. And medical research relies heavily on animals. In our cover story this week, "My Monkey," news editor Bill Lueders wrestles with the moral dilemma that our ability to do pretty much as we will with the rest of the animal kingdom presents us. More specifically, he looks into the stewardship of the colony of research monkeys housed at the Madison location of the National Primate Research Center, in part by following the life story of one of its residents, monkey r04040.
I find the discussion about the morality of animal research somewhat parallel to the current raging debate about torture, the question being, to some minds, "Do the lives saved through torture (animal research), justify the practice?" By making the comparison, I am by no means equating an animal life to a human life. But the moral question is the same. Does the end justify the means? Our story does not answer that question, but it does pose the question more starkly.