Animal Assisted Therapy: A Moral Assessment

Tsovel, Ariel. "Animal Assisted Therapy: A Moral Assessment." Animals and Society 50 (May 2014): 55-65. (Hebrew full article below)


Animal-assisted therapy includes animal-friendly aspects alongside harmful ones, in a combination that calls for a cautious moral assessment. This article examines the profession of animal-assisted therapy according to moral theories that represent the three central approaches to morality in our culture: balancing the harms and benefits that result from our actions; morality based on rights and obligations; and cultivating moral personality or virtue.

None of the three theories reject the notion of deriving healing benefits for humans as a consequence of encounters with animals; however, all three criticize existing habits in the profession in practice, habits that are ingrained in prevailing norms of animal exploitation. This article proposes a framework for assessing specific moral problems, in addition to an overall moral assessment of the profession, while suggesting improvements in line with the above-noted theories.

The suggested improvements include, at the very least, avoiding the use of animals that might be harmed due to their involvement in therapy, avoiding therapy situations that could harm the animals, and significantly increasing investment in studying the interests of the animals and in activity promoting these interests. Such moral assessment may also lead to a demand to change the aims of the profession in order that it may explicitly promote the interests of the animals involved, and to institutionalizing active animal assistance through the profession. The different moral theories may also lead to a more pointed criticism of the profession, as part of an overall criticism of other, more prevalent types of human-animal relations.

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