“Are Chimps Persons? And Should They Have Rights?”
May 28, 2015
Dr. Mark S. Latkovic
Human rights for chimpanzees? Aren’t those only for human persons? Well, a court hearing on May 27, 2015 in Manhattan, NY pitted two sides arguing “over whether the rights of personhood are applicable” to two chimps (Hercules and Leo) being held by a state university for purposes of scientific research (See http://www.wsj.com/articles/chimps-get-their-day-in-court-in-n-y-personhood-hearing-1432756362).
Steven Wise, an attorney with the Nonhuman Rights Project, told the presiding judge that these two animals are “‘autonomous and self-determining beings’ who should be granted a writ of habeas corpus and be moved” from the university to a sanctuary in Florida (See http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Chimpanzee-Nonhuman-Rights-Project-New-York-City-305127431.html). Wise even claimed that “imprisoning a chimpanzee is at least as bad and maybe even worse than imprisoning a human being.” His argument? They remember the past and they can plan for the future (See http://video.foxnews.com/v/4260819425001/should-chimpanzees-have-the-same-legal-rights-as-humans/?#sp=show-clips).
What are we to make of all of this? Well, let’s begin with three brief questions. Should animals be treated with care and respect? Absolutely. Should they be declared “persons” and given “nonhuman rights”? Absolutely not. Well, why not?
The true absurdity in the animal rights attorney’s position is his claim of autonomy and self-determination for the chimps. Only human beings are autonomous because only they are capable of making free choices, i.e., of exercising self-determination. And that is true because only human beings have the faculty of reason and thus only they are persons. To ascribe personhood to nonhuman animals is just another blurring of the lines that separates us from – though of course we have much in common with – the animal kingdom.
Animals are intrinsically valuable, but human persons are of infinitely higher value for they differ not only in degree but in kind from their animal ancestors.
[See also the interesting article by veterinarian Susan Kopp and theologian Charles C. Camosy, “Animals 2.0,” America, May 25-June 1, 2015, http://americamagazine.org/issue/animals-20. With respect to experimenting on chimps, they argue: “Now, to use chimpanzees, researchers must be able to show not only a strong need for such testing, with no other viable alternative, but also that the research cannot be ethically carried out on human beings as well.”]