“Personhood” for Chimps? Oook, Oook!

This has been in the news lately, so we thought we’d mention it. At PhysOrg they report: Group seeks ‘personhood’ for 4 chimps in US. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

An animal rights group is asking New York courts to recognize scientific evidence of emotional and cognitive abilities in chimpanzees and to grant the animals “legal personhood” so that they are ensured better treatment.

Nonhuman Rights Project, a nonprofit founded in 2007 by Massachusetts lawyer Steven Wise, filed a second lawsuit Tuesday and plans to file a third Thursday that asks the courts to declare that the chimps are not things to be possessed and caged by people and should be released from “illegal detention.”

Our cousins are being kept in bondage! Is deliverance at hand? We’re told:

The group is seeking an order, on behalf of four chimps, for their release to a sanctuary that is a member of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, to live out their lives with other primates in a natural outdoor setting. “In this case, we are claiming that chimpanzees are autonomous,” Wise said. “That is, being able to self-determine, be self-aware, and be able to choose how to live their own lives.”

First, self-determination. Then, suffrage! We live in exciting times, dear reader.

Here’s a link to the outfit that’s filing the suit: The Nonhuman Rights Project. They say they’re seeking a writ of habeas corpus for the chimps. This is the complaint they filed. It’s 17 pages long, but it’s a scan, so we can’t easily cut and paste. The plaintiff is The Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. on behalf of Tommy. As you probably guessed, Tommy is a chimp.

Along with the complaint is a 91-page Memorandum of Law. This post at the website of The Nonhuman Rights Project has links to an ark-load of other documents they’ve filed: Legal Documents re. Tommy, Kiko, Hercules and Leo.

We haven’t read any of that stuff. Let’s get back to PhysOrg:

Wise said he doesn’t expect the decisions to be favorable because the judges have no legal precedent to rely on. But he said he would file appeals. “These are the first in a long series of suits that will chip away at the legal thinghood of such non-human animals as chimpanzees,” he said.

We don’t know when we’ve been more thrilled. Here’s one last excerpt, and then you’re on your own:

The lawsuits include affidavits from scientists who say chimpanzees have complex cognitive abilities, such as awareness of the past and the ability to make choices, and display complex emotions such as empathy. “Once we prove that chimpanzees are autonomous, that should be sufficient for them to gain legal personhood and at least have their fundamental interests protected by human rights,” Wise said.

If the lawsuits succeed, similar ones could eventually be filed on behalf of other species considered autonomous, such as gorillas, orangutans, whales, dolphins and elephants, Wise said.

We haven’t seen any reaction from creationists yet, but that’s sure to come. We’ll be watching.

Afterthought: There didn’t seem to be a place for this post in any of our various tables of contents. It’s not science, it’s not religion, so it’s listed in the “Politics” section.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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19 responses to ““Personhood” for Chimps? Oook, Oook!

  1. Great News! Let us extend this to all mammals.

    Near where i live a rights group raided an animal testing lab recently and freed over 170 Beagles.


  2. The problem I see is that they are going to substitute a small cage for a larger caged in area. A comfortable prison is still a prison. Returning them to their natural habitat would be best.

  3. Dave Godfrey

    There is a response to this from Ken ‘The Lie’ Ham on his Facepoop page. Some crap about only humans are made in the image of God, and should we offer the same rights to Brother Tapeworm. Utter garbage from start to finish, but typical AiG.

  4. Retired Prof

    Animal rights zealots seeking personhood for nonhuman animals, conservatives trying to establish personhood (at least as regards freedom of religion) for corporations, strikers and associated protestors advocating full personhood for fast-food workers and Walmart flunkies. . . .

    Where will it all end?

  5. The whole thing seems senseless, as we already have laws against cruelty to animals. However, such laws are somewhat dubious, because animals have no rights that can be protected. I’ve resolved that problem, somewhat, by thinking that animal cruelty offends all of us, because (using a military analogy), it’s conduct unbecoming a human.

  6. It’s an interesting question, because we know that we can communicate with chimps and gorillas who have been trained in sign language. There is certainly some degree of human-like cognition going on in our close cousins, and probably in dolphins too.

    I think the answer is not to grant them personhood, but some form of status, like the endangered species status, for example, which carries with it special requirements for humane treatment. Maybe an “intelligent species” status. Such status might regulate the capture of animals in the wild, conditions for housing them in zoos, and so on. That would, it seems to me, achieve the goals of these well-meaning folks without all the complications of declaring apes to be “persons”.

  7. Eliminating all zoos would be a good start.

  8. “because animals have no rights that can be protected”
    That’s only because we humans don’t grant them.

    “be able to choose how to live their own lives.”
    We don’t even grant that to a substantial part of mankind. These issues need to be debated and thought over, but please lets not pretend it’s easy. I’m all for animal rights, but assuming animals can decide their own fate is not a solution. Rats and crows are very smart animals. Considering them autonomous is going to run into some serious problems.

  9. Paul S: “Returning them to their natural habitat would be best.”

    They most likely wouldn’t be accepted by the native chimps, and probably would be killed. Also, they probably wouldn’t know how to fend for themselves in the wild, anyway.

    As for doing away with all zoos, we have endangered so many species by destroying habitat that the only hope for survival of many species is within zoos, or protected refuges.

  10. Personhood for some chimps? I dunno.

    But I’d go for chimphood for some persons.

    [Tweeted from DiogenesLamp0]

  11. RSG: I agree with them not being accepted, and I wouldn’t want to see them killed under any circumstances. I’m not sure why they would be unable to fend for themselves. I’ve heard that comment before but I haven’t read studies of animals returned to the wild and not being able to fend for themselves. Somehow I can’t see an animal in the wild dying because a human wasn’t around to feed it. Even my cats will forage for food if I don’t feed them on time. As for doing away with zoos, although I’m not a fan of keeping large predatory animals in small cages, I understand the need to preserve and study endangered animals.
    The point I was trying to make was that although it seems like a nice idea to move the chimps to a sanctuary, it is still a caged detention. It’s not the freedom they allege it to be, just a larger cage.

  12. Paul S: I think the best solution is not to remove them from their native habitat in the first place, unless it’s necessary for the preservation of the species. For those animals already out of their habitat, we should provide the most spacious, least restrictive, closest to natural setting possible. If they can be safely returned to the wild, ok. However, keep in mind that animals in more natural settings in zoos gain lots of supporters for wildlife preservation by highlighting the need for habitat protection.

  13. we have endangered so many species by destroying habitat that the only hope for survival of many species is within zoos, or protected refuges.

    In my opinion, capturing animals, (sentient animals, even) and keeping them captive to breed, for the good of the species, is unjustified. Individual animals suffer, not the species. In addition, breeding programs produce babies, which bring in the public to gawk, but also produces surpluses, animals that are destined to live out their lives in captivity, if they are not sold to circuses or hunting ranches. And, of course, breeding programs do nothing to restore destroyed habitat. Most endangered species have no habitat to be returned to, no matter how many are bred. I don’t see any justification for the suffering we inflict on animals in zoos.

  14. Tripp in Georgia

    That’s a slippery slope!

    Sooner or later one of our primate cousins is going to need an abortion for her own health! What are we going to do then? Will we treat her like some animal or as a real ‘person’ who does not deserve care for her health in her time of crisis?

  15. tomh: “…breeding programs do nothing to restore destroyed habitat. Most endangered species have no habitat to be returned to, no matter how many are bred.”

    Perhaps more effort should be made to protect the habitat that is left and to restore habitat that has been lost. Some efforts in habitat restoration have been successful; it will be a good thing to still have the species alive that need that habitat.

  16. Dave Godfrey notes Ken Ham’s claim about

    Some crap about only humans are made in the image of God

    If that were true, what was God thinking when He/She/It created Mayor Ford of Toronto?

  17. Our Curmudgeon notes

    I’ve resolved that problem, somewhat, by thinking that animal cruelty offends all of us, because (using a military analogy), it’s conduct unbecoming a human.

    I am of similar mind (which won’t give you any comfort), but so is David Hume, which is far better company. It is often overlooked that the brilliant champion of empiricism was also a great thinker on ethics and the solid (which is to say, non-oogity-boogity) foundations for morality. Somewhere (I can’t find the passage off hand) he wrote something along the lines that to investigate a case of murder was an empirical investigation (employing our ‘Reason’), whereas our repugnance at acts of murder arose from our ‘passional nature’ (employing what was then called our ‘Sentiment’, a word the meaning of which has changed since the 18th century).

    Perhaps of interest to you might be A Treatise of Human Nature (Part III, Section xvi) Of the Reason of Animals, and Dr. Arthur Kuflik’s essay Hume on Justice to Animals, Indians and Women.

  18. Apologies, spacing went a bit wonky in previous post (though the links do work)

  19. Peter Singer’s concept of the “expanding circle of moral concern” is pertinent here as well. It would seem to be supported by the fact that male Enlightenment thinkers found it necessary (given their own logic) to assign limited moral rights to animals, Indians and women… how generous of them!