You are on page 1of 7

Connor Thornton

The Rights of an Animals Internal Community


Introduction:
When addressing the ethical and moral pertinence of the living things around us, we
sometimes forget to incorporate beings of a different scale. Life that is too small for the unaided
eye to see is often overlooked, even though these beings have shaped the world more than
humans have. Microorganisms are so abundant that among a humans roughly 1013 cells there lie
1014 bacterial cells. This means that in a body there are roughly ten times more bacterial cells
than human cells. Across the planet, bacteria are responsible for many essential processes, such
as nitrogen fixation, which are not possible by other organisms. In large, complex beings,
specifically human beings, bacteria play a key role in the processes of life, within metabolism for
instance. Many bacteria within a human arrive before birth and cannot survive outside of the
human body. Moreover, their processes are intertwined with the human bodys health and
wellbeing to the point that the host human cannot survive without the bacteria. According to
Charles Cockell, microbes are unable to fulfill the common requirements for rights due to,
among other reasons, their inability to suffer, have a consciousness, or become sentient and are
instead given moral considerability due to biocentrism, and the bacteria's interests (Cockell,
2005). By assessing Leopolds land argument (Leopold, 1949) as well as the considering animals
as a system rather than a single thing the rights of a human can be extended to encompass the
rights of the bacteria within them as a human is not only made up of human cells but also
bacterial cells.

Connor Thornton

Argument:
When viewing the interactions between the microscopic and macroscopic worlds we
must remember that many microbes are an integral part of ecosystems, especially those
performing biochemical processes, and in these environments the other organisms are often
reliant on the microbes and the microbes are often reliant on the other organisms.
In animals, such as humans, bacteria often possess a commensal or mutualistic
relationship where they can reside within the various organs in the gut and digest and metabolize
the food the animal eats. These gut flora both are needed by the animal, and need the animal they
inhabit, to the point that suffering of the animal causes indirect harm to the bacteria and harm to
the bacteria indirectly causes the animal suffering.
If we view a human as not an individual thing but a system of many parts that together
become a human we find that a human is made up of many organs which themselves are made
up of many cells. These human-cells, although part of a human, are not ethically part of a human.
They are not sentient, they cannot reason, they do not feel pleasure or pain but yet they are alive.
If removed from the system of human-cells called a body they can be cloned, altered, and killed
without harming the human more than the initial removal. Cells in the form of an ear or hand
once removed from the whole are not ethically relevant.
Things that are part of an animal originate from within the animal that are intended to
remain a part of the animal. Blood, for example, it is secreted from cells and is vital for the life
and wellbeing of the organism but it has no ethical value except for the maintenance of life and
wellbeing. Blood is a mixed fluid of living and non-living parts that carries chemicals, signals,
nutrients, and living things throughout the body. Much of it is made from and out of the animals

Connor Thornton

cells and when removed from the body, it no longer has any ethical value. However, whilst
within the body, blood is considered part of the animal even though they are not genetically as
blood cells have no nucleus and cannot replicate (Sackman, 1995). Blood, is a living part of the
body, and yet it is separate from the body as it freely flows between cells. It originates from the
body and possesses many of the same traits that bacteria do. If we consider bacteria akin to blood
and cells, then as part of the organisms inner system or community the health and wellbeing of
the organism may be further protected by also protecting the bacteria.
Where a cell originates from can dictate whether the two organisms are separate at certain
stages of life. It is for that the question is asked which came first the bacteria or the animal.
Studies found that when a baby is born they are coated in birthing fluids. In their first breaths
they wind up ingesting these fluids that contain bacteria. However, these bacteria are not the first
ones with which they come into internal contact. Inside the womb, the fetus contains a variety of
bacterial species from the mother which vary from case to case but in no case did the fetus
contain opportunistic or dangerous bacteria. (Mndar, Mikelsaar, 1996) This suggests that the
mothers body filters and transfers bacteria into the unborn child at some point in its
development, although, the exact point is unknown due to the technical and ethical difficulty of
such tests. This results in the child having bacteria developing within it, just as organs are
developing, before the child is even sentient.
Bacteria, like blood, are not ethically relevant on their own but they originate from the
body, they show intent to stay within the host, they are not genetically identical to host cells, and
they cannot replicate into host cells.

Connor Thornton

Often, what is important is, not the individuals, but the community as a whole (Leopold,
1949). If we view animals, such as humans, as a system of parts, adhering Leopolds land ethic
and expanding the boundary of the animals internal community allows the rights of the parts of
an animal to be considered. Which in turn allows for more accurate consideration of the animals
rights.
Accepting bacteria into the animals system grants the rights to protect and promote the
health and wellbeing of the animal to also incorporate the health and wellbeing of the bacteria
giving those bacteria in the system extended rights.
Objections:
Choice is a factor in community ethics as all parties must be given a choice whether or
not to be in the community. With non-sentient organisms choice is difficult to discern but can be
shown through biological intent which is, in most cases, the intent to live and thrive. In the breast
milk and in gut flora of mammals there exists a core set of bacterial species that each mammalian
species shares and a set of separate individual bacterial species that is unique to each individual
organism. When a mothers milk is created it incorporates bacteria from the mothers gut flora
into the milk before it is given to the child. These bacteria are not necessary for the production of
the milk and the mothers cells are selective in which types of bacteria are transferred. This
process is biologically deliberate as the mothers mammary glands are intentionally
contaminated by certain species of the mothers gut bacteria through human mononuclear
immune cells. (Leonides et al, 2012) The mother intentionally infects her child with bacteria that
will forever live in the childs gut and most likely to improve the childs chances of survival by
protecting the child from foreign threats, improving their health. This shows that the bacteria are

Connor Thornton

intentionally introduced into the human system. Without the bacteria, humans would be worse
off or even be unable to survive. These bacteria show intent by allowing themselves to be given
to the offspring and to receive a safe area to thrive.
As with all ethics, as technology advances, so must our evaluation of ethics. Germ-free
mice exist only in sterile lab environments and cannot exist outside them, making any ethics
associated with them to be regulative, as they are not natural in the sense that they are in an
engineered situation which cannot exist naturally. Plus, germ-free mice have poorly-developed
immune systems and are highly susceptible to infection suggesting that intentional infection by
maternal bacteria reduces the offsprings potential suffering and prevents many forms of death.
Additionally, germ-free mice must have a special diet as they are unable to digest certain foods
and need nutrient supplements to compensate. Germ-free mice lack bacteria as part of their
internal community and suffer because of it.
If one accepts bacteria as part of the human system then an operative ethic may be
implemented to associate the rights of the human with the bacteria. The bacteria and human are
part of a community of human-parts, blood, cells, and bacteria that should be protected as a
whole. Like many communities, there is an inability for one to hunt the other as the human
immune system and digestive systems kill large amounts of the community bacteria. Oftentimes,
as Leopold acknowledges new organisms invade and disrupt the ecosystems equilibrium
(Leopold, 1949) and cause the systems members to suffer. Invasive species can out compete the
native species and cause the native species, and those that rely on them, to suffer. The native
species will begin to dwindle causing those that rely on them to dwindle as well. Therefore, it is
imperative that invasive and opportunistic organisms be removed from the system in order to
protect the community and those that are helpful to the community. For instance, probiotics, are

Connor Thornton

acceptable but not ethically defensible as they are not part of the innate human system and,
according to Cockell, do not have rights (Cockell, 2005).
Conclusion:
The rights of bacteria are tied to the rights of animals, including humans, they inhabit.
When harm caused to either, the host or the bacteria, the other will be harmed. In animals, such
as humans, bacteria play a key role in metabolic pathways that provide nutrient acquisition as
well as the prevention of disease. By taking into account Leopolds Land Ethic if the ethical
influence of animals is extended to include that which is an integral part of its internal parts then
the rights of animals may be considered to be in question if it does not include the rights of the
bacteria that are a part of it. The bacteria in question include those that are intentionally
introduced as a permanent resident of the animal during development by their mother, and they
should be treated as part of the animal, in the same way an organ is treated as part of an animal.

Connor Thornton

Work Cited:
1) Aldo Leopold. A Land Ethic in A Sand County Almanac. (1949) pp 11-14.
2) Charles Cockell. The Value of Microorganisms. Environmental Ethics. (2005). pp 375390.
3) Erich Sackmann. Biological Membranes Architecture and Function. Handbook of
Biological Physics. vol.1. Elsevier. 1995.
4) Lenides Fernndez, Susana Langa, Virginia Martn, Antonio Maldonado, Esther
Jimnez, Roco Martn, Juan M. Rodrguez. The human milk microbiota: Origin and
potential roles in health and disease. Pharmacological Research 69. (2013) pp 1 10.
5) Reet Mndar, MarikaMkesaar. Transmission of Mother's Microflora to the Newborn at
Birth. Biology of the Neonate 6.69. (1996) pp 30-35.