Interview with Dr Antoine F. Goetschel

Dr Antoine Goetschel is an Animal Welfare Attorney and an international consultant for animal law and ethics. He has represented animals in more than 700 criminal cases, and has 30 years of experience in the field of animal law. In this interview he discusses the importance of legal protection for animals, and the relationship between animal sentience and law.

1. Scientific evidence for animal sentience has been significant for animal welfare legislation in Europe. How important, in your view, is the relationship between animal sentience science and animal law?

The relation between animal related science, be it in ethics, ethology and also in veterinary medicine and concerning animal sentience science and the law should not be underestimated: without this scientific background legislators will hardly be motivated to create a more animal friendly legislation. Law can be enforced against animal mistreaters whereas animal ethics will quite easily be turned into one private attitude, different from the attitude of the animal owner and mistreater. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge the animal welfare law as it is done nowadays. This is why the animal in the law should be taken care of in the curricula of university studies worldwide and taken more seriously by animal welfare organisations.

When discussing a better legal constitution of animals, the term of the animal’s sentience is brought in. Sentience as a term is part of the discussion, like for example in Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty of the EU.  Attention should be given to protect animals as a whole, not just because they are sentient. Otherwise, the law enforcement process risks to be blocked and restrained to the question if this particular animal is sentient or not. If having ‘animal welfare’ on the constitutional level, declaring this happens not only because animals are sentient, but also an interest of freedom of unnecessary suffering from pain, damage and fear,  is a strong fundament for the due process of law making and law applying.

When speaking of animal sentience in the political process, there is a risk to leave out the immensely big world of invertebrates for legal protection.

2. All animals, arguably, need more legal protection. But are there any species which you feel deserve more legal and scientific attention than they currently receive?

The traditional animal welfare legislation mostly concentrates on the protection of vertebrates by arguing that these are capable of being sentient and suffering. Over that the “dignity of creatures” and their “inherent value” is to be taken into account like in the Swiss Constitution, the South Korean Animal welfare act and in the Netherlands. This opens the field of legal and scientific attention more to a) what purpose of using (or abusing) animals is adequate and legitimate and b) how the inherent value and the dignity of the invertebrates can be protected legally, e.g. in the field of animal experiments and housing.

3. What can those working in the field of animal sentience studies do to get greater legal protection for animals?

The curiosity in questions concerning the animal in the law, especially in one’s own legislation, seems to be key. Scientists in the animal field need to have a good understanding of their own animal welfare legislation, the legal status of the animal in the Constitution and in civil law as well as the law applying process in animal welfare cases.

Then scientists are aware of the fact that they play an important, sometimes even essential role in animal welfare issues as far as the legislation process in concerned. Whereas animal welfare organisations bring other important aspects in the discussions, such as public awareness on animal issues, the impatience of the society, the revolting character of certain practices in animal keeping, transporting and slaughtering.

Scientists are expected to bring in their knowledge and expertise, but also their clear opinion in public and political discussions. As scientists and citizens, they can argue which method or attitude is no longer valid or acceptable as far as unnecessary animal suffering of abuse is concerned. If direct co-operation with animal welfare organisations might sometimes be felt to be too risky for their scientific career, a forum should be found for those scientists in the “animal sentience studies” together with scientists and experts in the legal animal welfare side to finalize visionary but realistic proposals for a better law making and law applying process. Sound knowledge on actual basic concepts and structures within modern animal welfare legislations worldwide is expected from legal scientists and experts, so that their common proposals are built on fundaments that passed through the legislation process elsewhere and that are proven and tested in other states.

4.  In 20 years from now, what advances do you hope will have been achieved in animal law?

“Let us be realistic and ask for the impossible!” With that saying in mind, I look forward to the animal welfare issue being part  of a lot of Constitutions worldwide, hopefully related not only to animal sentience, but also to their dignity and inherent value. Strong, complete, visionary and practicable animal welfare legislation will be found in every state, and the law applying process will go without saying. Official animal welfare attorneys in criminal and administrative procedures will help the authorities to control their actions and confirm to the public the standard of animal welfare in the state. The animal in the law will be a part of the curriculum of the university studies in law, ethics, veterinarian science and ethology. Every state has an official, complete and public database on the animal welfare related procedures. And the animal issue as a whole is an issue taken seriously by the majority of the population, politicians, legislators and authorities.


* Any views or opinions represented in this interview are personal and belong solely to the interviewee, and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of World Animal Protection.