From Jeff Sebo, director of the animal studies program at New York University, at New York Times:
You might be aware that chimpanzees can recognize themselves in a mirror, communicate through sign language, pursue goals creatively and form long-lasting friendships. You might also think that these are the kinds of things that a person can do. However, you might not think of chimpanzees as persons.
The Nonhuman Rights Project does. Since 2013, the group has been working on behalf of two chimpanzees, Kiko and Tommy, currently being held in cages by their “owners” without the company of other chimpanzees. It is asking the courts to rule that Kiko and Tommy have the right to bodily liberty and to order their immediate release into a sanctuary where they can live out the rest of their lives with other chimpanzees.
The problem is that under current United States law, one is either a “person” or a “thing.” There is no third option. If you are a person, you have the capacity for rights, including the right to habeas corpus relief, which protects you from unlawful confinement. If you are a thing, you do not have the capacity for rights. And unfortunately, even though they are sensitive, intelligent, social beings, Kiko and Tommy are considered things under the law. More.
First, the obvious solution is stronger humane society legislation. As a member of and donor to the Ottawa Humane Society, I am proud of our local efforts in this regard.
I am glad that the United States ended using chimpanzees in medical experiments intended to benefit human beings some years ago.
But no one wants to discuss why that project was useless: Its uselessness interferes with 99% chimpanzee claims, used to promote a variety of nonsense about human evolution.
If rats work out better in medicine, what should that really tell us? Something is missing here, no?
But now, down to business: As for “personhood”? First, the “mirror test” sounds like an academic sham, a made-up test.
How many animals need to know what they look like? If they are predators, maybe they should look like vegetation. Shouldn’t we start there?
As for “pursue goals creatively and form long-lasting friendships,” many animals do that effortlessly. Last summer, I watched a cluster of otherwise totally bored cats setting up a local dog to stick his big nose under the fence. Admittedly, I was working in the garden at the time and could possibly have put a stop to their scheme. But I had not realized that the dog would be foolish enough to take their bait. It was a hot day, so…
I still hear him bellering, briefly, in my head.
Earlier this year, when one of those same cats was sick in the dead of winter, his lifetime littermate took to grooming his otherwise untended fur.
This is not evidence of personhood, which involves philosophical definitions of rationality and free moral choice.
Maybe too many people today do not spend enough time with animals. Maybe they spend too much time in bureaucracies?
Chimpanzees being considered legal persons is a step on the road to human beings not being considered so. But people vote for it. And academics and law firms will profit from it.
It will not help chimpanzees at all, unfortunately. – O’Leary for News
See also: Animal minds: In search of the minimal self