Bioethics Blogs

Should we intervene in nature to help animals?

Guest Post by Catia Faria


It is commonly believed that our obligations towards other human beings are not restricted to abstaining from harming them. We should also prevent or alleviate harmful states of affairs for other individuals whenever it is in our power to do something about it. In animal ethics, however, the idea that we may have reasons not only to refrain from harming animals but also to help them is not particularly widespread. Of course, exceptions can be found regarding companion animals. Most people agree that failing to assist them would be wrong if we could otherwise help them. But what about all other animals in need, shouldn’t we also help them? Consider, for example, a case that has recently caught the attention of social media. In Norway, a man rescued a duck trapped under the ice on the surface of a lake. Everyone is celebrating the intervention as a form of heroism. But wasn’t intervening in order to help the duck precisely what he ought to do?

The laissez-faire intuition

It is sometimes claimed that even though interventions like this seem beneficial, the best we can do for animals living in nature is simply to let them be. In other words, that we don’t have reasons to prevent or alleviate the harms that animals suffer in the wild. This has been referred to as the “laissez-faire” intuition. This intuition relies on two fundamental assumptions. Firstly, it is based on an idyllic view of nature, according to which wild animals have generally good lives, only threatened by occasional human interferences.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.