Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Is an animal a person?

Do nonhumans have certain rights that we aren’t currently granting them? This is one of the questions addressed in a case regarding chimpanzee personhood that is currently going though the New York Supreme Court.

The Nonhuman Rights Project is pursuing lawsuits on behalf of several chimpanzees in New York. Each chimp has a background filled with abuse, from deplorable living conditions, mistreatment in the entertainment industry to being experimented upon. The Nonhuman Rights Project is an organization whose mission is “through education and litigation, 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.” This project is representing the cases of these chimpanzees and fighting for them to be granted legal personhood.

Personhood refers to any entity capable of having legal rights. Some legal persons currently recognized by the law around the world include American corporations and the Whanganui River in New Zealand. Additionally, many companies have debated the personhood of animals. In 1992 Switzerland changed its constitutional recognition of animals from things to beings. And it wasn’t the last to make such a change; in 2007, the Balearic Islands, a province of Spain, was the first place in the world to grant legal rights and personhood to great apes. This trend has spread to other countries around the world, and now it has finally come up in America.

If these New York chimpanzees are recognized as legal persons, they will be granted lives that are free from bodily harm. Chimpanzees and other great apes have demonstrated cognitive properties unnervingly similar to our own, yet we sometimes treat them as mere property. This is not to say that something must have a certain type of intelligence in order to have legal rights, but hopefully it will be more likely to sway the courts in the chimps’ favor.

This case will be extremely influential, and considering how much footing the animals rights movement has gotten in recent years, it is an indication of a change in the way we see animals, and not just from a legal perspective. We are beginning to see animals as the sentient living beings they are, and it is so exciting to be able to witness this revolution of perception.

Here is a link to a interesting New York Times article on the subject:


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