Who is a "person"? If corporations can be
"persons", why not chimpanzees? Do sentient non-human
animals deserve legal rights?
Rights Project is a US civil rights organization working
to achieve actual LEGAL rights for members of species other than
our own. Its mission is to change the legal status of appropriate
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
The Project has three cases ongoing, all filed in 2013 on
behalf of captive chimpanzees: Hercules and Leo, Tommy and Kiko.
Two of the four chimpanzees have since been moved from research
labs to primate sanctuaries; Stony Brook University has
indicated it will no longer use Hercules and Leo in
experiments, after nearly five years in its labs.
In a fascinating 33-page decision at the end of July, a New York
judge noted "that "persons" are not restricted
to human beings, and that who is a "person" is not a
question of biology, but of public policy and principle.
"(T)he parameters of legal personhood have long been and will
continue to be discussed and debated by legal theorists,
commentators, and courts," she wrote, "and will not be
focused on semantics or biology, or even philosophy, but on the
proper allocation of rights under the law, asking, in effect, who
counts under our law."
She refused to issue a writ of habeas corpus for the release of
the two chimpanzees, holding that she was bound by a
precedent that the Project is itself seeking to appeal.
However, Judge Jaffe concluded, "Efforts to extend legal
rights to chimpanzees are thus understandable; some day they may
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