In upstate New York, Tommy the chimpanzee sits alone in a cage in Fulton County. Tommy has an attorney friend, however, who cares about Tommy and is prepared to argue for his right and entitlement to "legal personhood." Details and more specifics of the organization behind this case can be found at www.nonhumanrightsproject.org. You know, just in case you think I'm self-medicating.
According to their website:
"Our mission is 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."
Basically, the attorney has requested that Tommy be released to join other chimps at a Florida sanctuary. Noting that chimps and other animals have some human qualities, he argued that they should have basic rights - such as freedom from imprisonment. If this succeeds, he will seek personhood for other species he finds human-like. Suggestions like dolphins and elephants have been thrown around.
People of the world, I love animals. Truly, I do. But this is more than a little wacky-bonkers, in my humble opinion.
Humans are humans and animals are animals. The difference is more than body autonomy. I've never seen an animal, even a chimp, stand up and fight for what it thought was right. With the exception of Planet of the Apes (you knew I'd mention that movie somewhere in this post), I've never seen them display wisdom or love of beauty. That doesn't mean they don't, it just means we are not on the same playing field where we fully understand each others world.
Chimps don't sit around asking each other, "Where did we come from? What is the meaning of life? Is it possible that we evolved from Man? Don't give me that look - it's possible."
As far as bodily liberty goes, I still don't have bodily liberty - I'm frequently tied to the house or the car, and it doesn't matter how much I want to break free, it just works out that way. As a matter of fact, ask any human if a new label would assure fundamental rights? Like Tommy, I would like to be released to a Florida sanctuary where I could freely frolic with my own kind. Really, I would. I wonder if Tommy's lawyer is worried about me, too.
Continuing with the bodily liberty goal...let's just call it personal liberty, since "personhood" is the goal for the chimp. The definition of personal liberty is "the freedom of the individual to do as he pleases limited only by the authority of politically organized society to regulate his action to secure the public health, safety, or morals or of other recognized social interests." Aren't we keeping chimps in enclosures, sanctuaries and cages to secure the public health and safety? Boom. The chimp is back where he started: the cage. We've gone full circle.
We've seen chimps gravely injure humans; it's not like you can reason with them. They don't seem to feel bad about it, either. So, if we treat them like they have a "legal personhood, " those chimps would have responsibilities in society and end up in jail for any assault, battery or injury. Boom. The chimp is back in the cage. It's not really unfair because we put humans who act like animals in cages, too.
Come to think of it, we have humans who want freedoms without responsibilities, too. Dang, I'm having trouble defending my side of the argument exclusively.
We haven't really mastered the art of treating all people like persons with rights; I'm afraid we need to work on that first. Do chimps prioritize better than humans?
By the way - please, please, please don't mention this in front of my dog. If that animal gets personhood, she'd milk it for all it was worth. But I'd have her arrested for stalking so fast your head would spin.