Attorney Steven Wise will argue before the New York Supreme Court on behalf of two chimpanzees, that they deserve to become “legal persons” with all the rights and privileges attached.
From the Washington Post:
The chimps in question at this week’s hearing are Tommy and Kiko, both of which are held by private owners in New York, according to Wise’s group, the Nonhuman Rights Project. In a bid to persuade courts to recognize the animals as “legal persons,” the group has filed writs of habeas corpus, which would allow the chimps to challenge the legality of their detention in court. Any court that granted such a writ would be acknowledging the ape’s legal “personhood” — and right to be free.
What does a chimpanzee know of freedom as a concept? Certainly, animals in cages know they are in cages and can’t go where they want. But most well-cared-for (even some wild) animals can’t discern the meaning of “freedom.” They only know what is instinctual and what is learned through environment.
For example, researchers have found that domesticated dogs prefer relationships with people over other dogs. Wolves, on the other hand, even if raised by humans, prefer other wolves. They can’t choose these preferences because they’re animals.
Do chimpanzees have life plans? Do they think about the future beyond their next meal or going outside to hang out? What would “freedom” and “legal personhood” mean to Tommy and Kiko?
WaPo cited family trusts, corporations, and the Whanganui River in New Zealand as examples of non-humans given “legal personhood.” But family trusts and corporations are simply groups of humans represented by other humans. They have the advantage of not being tied to generational property rights and other restrictions that go along with mortality.
As for the Whanganui River, it’s represented by two humans appointed by the indigenous people and the Crown–rivers have no free will other than nature itself. Granting the river personhood is simply a unique and clever way of managing a resource.
With chimpanzees, and animals in general, all of the benefits of legal personhood are lost, and all of the pitfalls are retained. These are living animals that can be individually identified, not the class of “all chimpanzees.” Therefore it’s not a resource management issue like a river. And each chimpanzee, or a group (“class”) of chimpanzees would be entitled to human legal representation.
Those humans would be more than pet owners, because that comes with the responsibility for care and feeding, etc. They would also be able to pursue legal causes of action against human beings in the name of supposed freedom of animals. Pets would be able to sue their owners, or in fact would have no owners, only slaves obligated to care for them.
The chimps’ lawyer could demand, for instance, that its caregiver provide organic bananas from Costa Rica. Or that it be taken to a habitat for carnal knowledge of other chimpanzees each month, or any number of other human-devised demands the lawyers could concoct. A demand letter in the name of a legal person chimp could result in a lawsuit. A judgment could then result in the court ordering a human to serve a chimpanzee.
If the chimpanzee–or chimpanzees as a class action–prevailed against every zoo and owner in America, who would receive the judgment? Chimps can’t understand or spend money. The lawyers would get the cash as a trust to spend on the animals behalf. And if they ran out of money, they would simply sue for more.
Worse, the lawyers could demand “specific performance” from caretakers, with the logic being that chimps can’t understand or spend money. That would create a class of humans who are bound by court order to service animals. That’s called slavery.
There is absolutely nothing good, useful, or logical about giving chimpanzees legal personhood. All the citations about how chimps socialize and behave in groups is useless drivel. Animal handlers will tell you if asked, “is a lion smart?” that a lion is a genius at being a lion. Ask it to build a boat, and–well, no. This isn’t a matter of incapacity. Human children, adults with dementia and the mentally deficient are still humans, with immaturity or disability as the case may be.
Chimps can never, ever have the capacity of a human. No chimpanzee in the world, that has ever lived, or will ever live (absent some X-men or Planet of the Apes fantasy) will ever have the capacity of a human. Chimpanzees are geniuses at being chimpanzees. They can form emotional bonds, relationships, and form behavior patterns from their own treatment and memories.
So can elephants. So can dogs. So can parrots. So can dolphins. So can housecats. So what?
If the New York Supreme Court sees fit to grant this legal right unique to human beings and human constructs to living animals, they will have started the path toward human slavery and away from every principle cited in the foundation of this nation. All men are created equal in the eyes of their creator. That creator said that man is to be the steward of the earth, be fruitful and multiply, and be the master of the beasts of the earth.
All they’d be doing is giving men the whip over other men, by using chimpanzees in place of God. If the court does, that, God help New York.