One of the most frequently misused argument against animal rights is the issue of suffering. It is argued that suffering is an inherent part of life, death is a part of life and so therefore killing and eating animals is ok. It is a reality that suffering is an inescapable, integral part of life – it is impossible to eliminate it. However these premises do not support the above conclusion. Suffering is an unavoidable part of life, but what we can do is minimize suffering. Less suffering is undeniably better than more suffering. We are this duty bound to minimize it. The key issue at hand however, is that of unnecessary suffering. This is the moral question that we must address – not only is it our moral duty, but it is also our direct responsibility
Necessary suffering is whereby there is no other option – for example when a lion kills a gazelle, the gazelle suffers. It suffers short-term fright and terror, as well as an abrupt, early end to its life. The fundamental point here is that the lion has no other choice. It cannot go vegetarian, he/she will very soon die. It is a dietary necessity – without animal protein the lion will perish. This is the definition of necessary suffering – the suffering of the gazelle has to occur for the lion to live.
On the other hand, meat consumption for human beings is entirely unnecessary. Yes, we humans need to feed ourselves, however, when we ask if this is necessary suffering, we do not reach the same conclusion as the lion. Let us begin by asking whether or not humans require meat to survive. Now, most of us know this to not be true, as the population of vegetarians and vegans will attest. In fact, it turns out that a rounded, exclusively plant-based diet is actually healthier for us than an omnivorous diet.
Animal Ethics (III) – The Nature of Suffering