Animal Law Review


Gieri Bolliger

First Page



Swiss law protects not only the well-being but also the dignity of animals. Since 1992, animal dignity protection has been a constitutional principle in Switzerland, and a main purpose of the national Animal Welfare Act since 2008. The animal dignity concept is still unique in the world and represents a biocentric expansion of Swiss law granting animals a moral value, irrespective of their sentience. This signifies protection for an animal’s inherent worth, including ethical aspects that are not necessarily associated with any physical and physiological injury, such as protection from humiliation, excessive instrumentalization, and substantial interference with an animal’s appearance and abilities. Therefore, consideration of an animal’s dignity goes far beyond its pathocentric protection from pain, suffering, harm, and anxiety. This represents a milestone for animal law in general and has received much attention all over the world. Against the background of the animal dignity concept, the Swiss legislature passed a number of reforms and amendments. However, in contrast to human dignity, animal dignity is only given a relative value in Swiss law, meaning that violations of animal dignity usually can be balanced and legally justified by prevailing human interests. As a result, various highly questionable uses of animals are considered legitimate and not subject to legal scrutiny in Switzerland, and many of the essential questions are not being asked. Consequently, the far-reaching conceptual reorganization of Swiss animal law has not yet led to a fundamental change in the human-animal relationship in practice. This Article first discusses in detail the concept of animal dignity protection, its systematic embedding within Swiss animal law, and its legal implications to date. Subsequently, the Article analyzes multiple everyday ways of engaging with animals in Switzerland that are consistent with dignity protection. Highlighting a number of deficits both in the implementation and enforcement of the concept, this Article finally suggests various improvements that demand more consistency and courage in legislation, enforcement, and jurisdiction, as well as a general increase in awareness for animal dignity and its protection both in society and legal institutions.

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Animal Law Commons



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