Many sentient (or possibly sentient) wild animals follow a reproductive strategy whereby they have large numbers of offspring, the vast majority of which suffer and die quickly or suffer and die slowly. Either way, there is a huge amount of suffering in the wild. And it is a truism in ethics that we have a duty to alleviate or prevent unnecessary suffering. If we could intervene in nature to prevent this suffering, shouldn’t we?
In Wild Animal Ethics: The Moral and Political Problem of Wild Animal Suffering (Routledge, 2020), Kyle Johannsen argues that we do have this duty. On his view, the value of unspoiled nature only conflicts with botched interventions, not effective ones, and we already do intervene in ways that help wild animals, such as through rabies vaccinations intended primarily to protect domesticated animals. But through gene editing we could do quite a bit more – create a 3-week window from birth where newborns do not suffer from pain, or even turn carnivores into herbivores. Johannsen, an adjunct assistant professor of philosophy at Queen’s University, offers a savvy and provocative discussion of this relatively neglected issue of animal welfare, along with some recommendations on how we can address it.
Carrie Figdor is professor of philosophy at the University of Iowa.