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Monday, 28 April 2014 06:05

Nonhuman Rights

Written by  Bob Serody

Nonhuman Rights

by Bob Serody, Space Coast Progressive Alliance
Revised 9:55am, April 28, 2014

“The Nonhuman Rights Project is the only organization working toward actual LEGAL rights for members of species other than our own. Our mission is to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere 'things,' which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to 'persons,' who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them. Our first cases are being prepared for filing in 2013.”

 I probably would have been sympathetic as an animal rights lover had I come across this website first.  But it would have been in passing.  Instead, what lead me to this website and an Op-Doc video on “Unlocking the Cage” was an incredible article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine (April 27, 2014) entitled His Day in Court by Charles Siebert.  A chimpanzee dressed in a business suit is sitting in the witness box in a courtroom poised before a microphone.  The first thing that flashed through my mind was the movie “Planet of the Apes”, but unlike this movie, where people dressed in costumes were ‘aping’ our distant relatives, this was real.  For it dealt with the concept of the legal meaning of personhood, and the chimpanzee was making legal history by symbolically suing his captor in court.

 Siebert was writing about a law professor, Steven Wise, and his campaign to argue about the legal rights of certain nonhumans in court, starting with chimpanzees, by raising a profound question regarding the concept of personhood.  Wise and several other lawyers were filing a habeas corpus petitions on behalf of four chimps, three of which had died in captivity.

 Their purpose was to convince a judge that Tommy, the remaining chimp, was an autonomous being.  Its having personhood meant that it shared with humans, as Wise defines that term, the ability to choose, have self-determination, and make decisions through free will.  These creatures can also feel emotionally, suffer, and grieve.  

 What I’ve always felt for these creatures was how similar their plight has been to other human beings who have been held in captivity.  It is a reflection of how we interact with each other.  Driven by fear and feelings of superiority, our actions result in suppression of equal rights or even periodic mass extermination.  We judge other humans to be inferior because of race, religion, gender, and color.

 Although American law once held that a person was legally “invisible” because of color and gender, these injustices were eventually rectified.  What about chimps, orcas, elephants, and dolphins?  Doesn't their group behavior and self-awareness render them visible, resulting in their release from human imprisonment?

 By what right do our laws give legal human status to objects like ships, corporations, partnerships and states?

 Religious and philosophical arguments aside, the legal consideration for animal rights intrigued me.  How do we live in harmony with nature, of which animals are a necessary part?  Maybe it is time for the chimpanzee to sue his human owner, which gets me back to the Op-Doc video on “Unlocking the Cage”.  It is a thought-provoking entry into the consideration of nonhuman rights.

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LINKS

The Nonhuman Rights Project
http://www.nonhumanrightsproject.org/

New York Times Sunday Magazine, His Day in Court by Charles Siebert, April 27, 2014
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/27/magazine/the-rights-of-man-and-beast.html

 

Last modified on Monday, 28 April 2014 07:58
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