The third type of approach to reproductive ethics for companion animals that I will consider invokes what we can call the membership model of domestic animal rights, which is a branch of the group-differentiated approach to human obligations to animals and the human-animal relationship more broadly. I argue that, compared to welfarism and abolitionism, the membership model is equipped to supply a relatively appealing account of the human duty of care in relation to companion animal reproduction. The recent work of membership model proponents Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka (2011), Will Kymlicka and Sue Donaldson (2014), and Clare Palmer (2010, 2014) has ignited fresh debate concerning the precise limits and contours of human obligations to domestic animals as fellow moral and political community members. Yet they too remain torn and at times insufficiently clear on how the demands of the duty of care feature in relation to companion animal reproduction.
Donaldson and Kymlicka (2011, 82-85) counter extinctionist claims by pointing out that asymmetrical power relations are ubiquitous and inevitable. Echoing, among others, disability scholars and rights advocates, they argue that dependence is an essential feature of life that is not intrinsically harmful or undesirable; rather, it is the denigration and exclusion of dependent ways of being that are harmful and misguided. While Donaldson and Kymlicka predictably reject the practice of routine sterilization for companion animals, they also recognize the normative significance of companion animals’ inability to self-regulate their reproductive behavior, and concede that some restrictions on reproduction may therefore be required for companion animals (2011, 145).
Advocates of the membership model recognize that reproductive rights may justifiably be constrained, but only through appeal to the interests of the rights- holder herself rather than the community at large. Risks to sustaining membership in the greater community that creates the very possibility of mutually enjoyed interspecies living can justify limits on reproduction. Donaldson and Kymlicka argue that “With the citizenship model, restrictions can only be justified by reference to the interests of the individual, while recognizing that these interests include being part of a cooperative social project which involves both rights and duties” (2011, 147). And as Palmer has pointed out, systematic restrictions on reproduction, such as routine sterilization, are implausibly justified paternalisti- cally, given that the benefits of sterilization are primarily directed towards others—specifically, their human caregivers and other domestic and community residents (e.g., native bird populations).13 Appeals to individuals’ interests to justify routine sterilization are perhaps inevitably dubious; even claiming that sterilization serves the individual by facilitating her continued membership in society requires circular reasoning, for it implies that a given intervention can be appropriate as long as it contributes to the individual’s suitability for cooperative living. And surely the individual’s interest in cooperative living depends on whether it will involve a harmful or rights-violating intervention.
On the whole, membership model supporters and others who take inviolable rights for animals seriously admit the difficulty of systematically restricting reproduction at all within a strong rights framework.14 Yet they also balk at alternatives such as unfettered reproduction for companion animals or even generally prohibiting sterilization. Donaldson and Kymlicka have begun the process of teasing out the relevant considerations at play in carving out appropriate versus inappropriate regulative measures for domestic animals’ reproduction; if cooperative relationships form the bedrock of a just interdependent interspecies society, it will follow that “where animals do not or cannot self-regulate their reproduction, the costs to others of having to care for and maintain their offspring could become prohibitive. In these circumstances, imposing some limits on their reproduction is ... a reasonable element in a larger scheme of cooperation” (2011, 147). Regulating reproductive behaviors is perhaps justifiable in a rather pedestrian sense, in that restrictions of all sorts are required in a cooperative society. Moreover, such restrictions need not be highly invasive; while current regulatory methods are, at least in North America, typically limited to risky and permanent surgical interventions,15 alternative contraceptive measures that are far less harmful and that minimize infringements on individual freedoms could be explored and implemented. Surely, if we can reasonably expect reproductive self-regulation in those capable of it, imposed regulation cannot be completely off the table for those who are not so capable.