Should we as humans worry that soon our rights will be on the same level or even less than those of chimpanzees?
While many thought it could never happen, the possibility is drawing closer with a recent ruling from a New York judge. That judge concluded that chimpanzees have the same legal rights as human beings, at least when it comes to a determination of the legality of their detention.
A lawsuit that was filed in 2013 by the Nonhuman Rights Project, sought to free chimpanzees Hercules and Leo from their current living arrangements on private property. The chimpanzees currently live in a lab at Stony Brook University.
This April 29, 2009 photo shows "Jody," a chimpanzee who was used for breeding and biomedical research at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in Cle Elum, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Hercules and Leo have now made history as being the first animals ever to be covered by a writ of habeas corpus, which to date has only been granted to human beings. The writ will allow the court to decide their fate.
The court had originally thrown out the lawsuit. But thanks to the appeal process and the diligence of the animal rights’ group, the court granted the writ and has ordered a representative of the university to appear in court next month to argue why the chimpanzees should not be released and moved to a sanctuary in Florida.
The Animal Welfare Act provides guidelines for the care of animals used in laboratory research, including chimpanzees. However, animal rights’ advocates argue that while minimizing and alleviating pain are a requirement under the act, there is no such requirement when doing so would compromise the methodological integrity of a research project.
The founder of Nonhuman Rights Project attorney Steven Wise, argues that chimpanzees should be treated differently and not used in laboratory research settings at all because they are intelligent animals that are able to self-determine, are self-aware and are able to choose how to live their own lives.
Wise backed up his statement with affidavits in his 2013 lawsuit from scientists who claim that chimpanzees have complex cognitive abilities, such as awareness of the past, the ability to make choices and display complex emotions such as empathy.
Research conducted by Dr. Jane Goodall, who devoted her life and research to chimpanzees, revealed behavior that was once unknown before her research.
According to the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, chimpanzees’ behavior is so complex because their mental capacity is so developed. Many mental traits once considered unique to humans have been exhibited by chimps, such as reasoned thought, abstraction, generalization, symbolic representation and a concept of self, according to the institute.
Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher who lived from 1748 to 1832, was regarded as the founder of modern utilitarianism.
Bentham predicted that there would come a time when “humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes…” and “…the question is not, Can they reason? Nor, Can they talk? But, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?...”
Apparently, in some areas that specifically pertain to humans, we may have taken steps backward instead of forward, at least according to Bentham’s reasoning.
Most would agree that animals, chimpanzees or otherwise, should be treated humanely and that they should never be made to suffer.
We have also seen human rights taking a backseat in California when a state appeals court sided with environmentalists over farmers, to protect Delta smelt fish, by limiting water diversions in what is being considered the state’s worst drought in a century.
Are we beginning to see the crossing over of a threshold where animal rights will eventually evolve into those equal to humans or perhaps even surpass them in some instances?
While animal rights’ activists are under no illusion that they have won in their recent court battle, they do see the judge’s ruling as a “foot in the door.”
“We got our foot in the door. And no matter what happens, that door can never be completely shut again,” exclaimed Natalie Prosin, Executive Director of the Nonhuman Rights Project.
While the door may not be closed ever again when it comes to the rights of Chimpanzees, should humans be worried that their door may already be swinging the other way?
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