Assessing and Respecting Sentience After Brexit

Thanks to a generous grant from Open Philanthropy, last year the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities co-sponsored a workshop with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) examining the ethical and legal implications of recent advancements in our ability to assess the mental states and well-being of nonhuman animals.  The impetus for the meeting was that since 2009, the United Kingdom had been operating under article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty which states that the European Union and member states, ”shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals.” However, after voting to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom was tasked with deciding which rules and provisions to retain, and controversy erupted several years ago when MPs voted against transferring this provision of the Lisbon Treaty to the United Kingdom post-Brexit.

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The bright side of Brexit

Let’s suppose, entirely hypothetically and for the sake of argument, that Brexit is a disaster for the UK. Let’s suppose that sterling crashes; that foreign travel is punishingly expensive and that, if you can afford to go abroad, you’re a laughing stock. Let’s suppose that the Treasury’s estimates of billions of pounds of losses each year are reasonably accurate; that unemployment rises; that credit ratings plummet. Let’s suppose Brexit creates a corrosive tide of racism; that things that should never be said, and can never be unsaid, are shouted at high volume. Let’s suppose that there’s a torrential brain drain; that UK universities fall down the international league tables; that the innovative treatments prescribed (to private patients only, unfortunately – no money left for the NHS) by the UK’s (predominantly white) doctors are all devised in New York, Paris and Rome rather than London and Leeds. Let’s suppose that the environment, unprotected by EU legislation, is trashed, and that Scotland leaves the UK.  Let’s suppose, too, that nervousness about all this creates an increasingly authoritarian style of government .

If all that happens, it’ll be great. At least if you’re a consistent utilitarian. The horror of the UK’s experience will strengthen the EU and prevent other countries from thinking that they should leave the Union – which would have similarly disastrous results for them and, if the EU itself dissolves, tectonic consequences for the stability of the world. Continue reading