Current DPhil in Medical and Animal Law: Q and A with Anne Lansink

Deer in parkCurrent DPhil in Medical and Animal Law: Anne Lansink

Why did you choose to do your DPhil at Oxford and who were your supervisors?

I was very keen to continue working with my prospective DPhil supervisors, Professor Jonathan Herring and Professor Charles Foster. They were supervising my MPhil at the time and I felt that there was so much more left to learn from them. They also happened to be incredibly kind persons, which was very important to me. Another factor that played a key role in my decision is that I felt both inspired and very much at home in Oxford. There is an exceptionally open, friendly and intellectually stimulating environment there, with people from very diverse backgrounds and plenty of opportunities to engage in academic and non-academic activities. The university is also rich in wonderful traditions and looks astonishingly beautiful, if not magical. Staying on for the DPhil therefore felt like the logical next step.

What is the title of your research and what is your research topic about?

My DPhil thesis is titled ‘The Potential of the Concept of Dignity for UK and EU Animal Protection Law’. It examines whether dignity has been used to justify the existence of animal protection laws in the UK and in the EU and to determine their content, and, if it has not, what these laws might look like if it had been. The thesis principally focuses on dignity’s potential to cover moral ground where no harm occurs. More specifically, there are situations in which the experiential welfare interests of animals are not necessarily negatively affected but which may still be considered morally objectionable (for example, in the bioethical context). The relevant laws are currently not capable of adequately addressing these situations, and dignity has the potential to fill this gap. The dignity-based arguments advanced in my DPhil thesis ultimately constitute a plea for legislators (and other relevant actors) to look at animals not merely as sentient beings, but to approach them in a more holistic manner instead and to think more fundamentally about what it means to be an animal at all.

How did you think of your research topic?

I was very much interested in how the law protects (or should protect) the interests of the more vulnerable beings in our society. Accordingly, I had drawn up a list of potential topics to explore. It was, however, also important to me that the topic I would choose would constitute relatively uncharted territory, so that my research would actually make a meaningful and substantial contribution to the relevant literature. Discussions with my prospective supervisors helped me select the most promising topic from the list and further narrow it down thereafter. The topic was further refined whilst writing the DPhil thesis.

What stands out to you in the research you have undertaken so far?

Dignity features prominently in the human rights context, and I therefore expected it to be well-represented in the animal law context as well. However, this turned out not to be the case. The concept does not currently seem to play any substantial, explicit, and self-standing role in UK/EU animal law. I was also surprised by how fundamental the questions are to which my research has led me (notably, “what does it mean to be an animal?” and “what does it mean to be you and me?”), as well as by how many different types of literature (and other sources) I ended up reading. My research required me to combine materials from many areas of law and to explore a variety of academic disciplines, such as philosophy, theology, and zoology. Although challenging at times, the questions examined and the approach used were very stimulating from an intellectual standpoint and greatly enriched my understanding of the law and of the world more generally.

Why do you think this research is important?

There is a good deal of academic writing on dignity. However, few authors have discussed the concept in relation to animals. Furthermore, although there is a substantial amount of philosophical literature on animal ethics, there is almost no academic analysis of the existing legal framework regarding animals (not only in relation to dignity, but also more generally). My research aims to fill some of these gaps. I hope that the arguments developed in the thesis will stimulate a discussion in the field of animal law on the potential of dignity as an alternative or additional organising concept, and that the legislative and policy proposals brought forward would, if implemented, serve to strengthen the protection offered to animals in the jurisdictions examined and enhance the internal consistency of the law.

Do you have any tips for people applying to the DPhil programme?

To those considering applying to Oxford (and the DPhil programme in specific) I would first of all like to say: absolutely do it! Do not feel deterred by the somewhat daunting application process, but remember instead how with a positive mindset, hard work, a good amount of determination, and a little bit of courage you can move mountains. My second piece of advice would be to find a research topic that genuinely excites you and supervisors with whom you would feel comfortable. Writing a DPhil thesis is a relatively long-term commitment, and it is therefore important that you create the right circumstances for yourself to flourish. Third, once you have arrived in Oxford, make sure to get out of the beautiful libraries every once in a while and fully make use of the opportunities that Oxford offers you. There are so many intellectual, cultural and social activities going on there, and you can meet the most amazing people. All of these help you develop in ways your studies never could. Last but definitely not least, do not forget to enjoy your time whilst being there. Oxford is truly a wonderful place, do not let your time go by without profiting from your stay!