Sentience is at the heart of our moral code of conduct, according to Levine. "Sentience means that individuals experience various emotions including pleasure, pain, and fear and is aware of what is happening to and around themselves," she says. "Unfortunately, despite the understanding that animals other than humans are sentient, the reality is that many humans treat nonhumans as things that we can do whatever we want with; use as resources, whether for food, clothing, entertainment, product testing, or vivisection."
Levine, who has worked in the field of mental health for over 20 years and who has a keen interest in intersectionality in social justice, believes organizations that promote empathy and compassion need to fight against these cultural norms that see animals as commodities to be exploited and include all sentient beings when promoting empathy and compassion.
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you does not depend on race, gender, sexual orientation or species," she says. "If these organizations were true to their mission, they would be advocating that we treat all animals, human and nonhuman, as individuals whose lives matter to them."
The letter includes signatories from 33 leading social scientists in the US, UK and Australia, including:
- Dr Melanie Joy, Professor, University of Massachusetts
- Professor Casey Taft, Professor, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts
- Dr Richard Ryder, psychologist, author, coined the term 'speciesism' in 1970
- Dr Will Tuttle, author of The World Peace Diet
- Dr Jonathan Balcombe, author of SecondNature: The Inner Lives of Animals
- Nik Taylor, Associate Professor, School of Social and Policy Studies, Flinders University, Australia
- Jeffrey Masson, author of When Elephants Weep
- Dr Richard Twine, Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences, Edge Hill University, UK
- Dr David Nibert, Professor of Sociology, Wittenberg University, Ohio
- Dr Carol L. Glasser, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Minnesota State University
The full text of the letter and signatories can be read here.