On the morning of December 2, a lawyer named Steve Wise and three other members of the Nonhuman Rights Project walked up the steps of the Fulton County Courthouse in Johnstown, New York and into the annals of history.
In Wise’s hands was a lawsuit demanding something unprecedented in American law: formal recognition that a 26-year-old chimpanzee named Tommy, kept alone in a cage in a local warehouse, is a person, possessing a legal right to bodily liberty previously reserved for humans.
One day later, Wise delivered a similar lawsuit in Niagara Falls, on behalf of Kiko, a chimpanzee living in the home of a couple who purchased him 20 years ago from an Ohio ice cream parlor. Two days after that, Wise filed suit on Long Island, claiming freedom for Hercules and Leo, two chimps used in locomotion studies at Stony Brook University and owned by the New Iberia Research Center, a facility infamous for the abuse of its animals.
What Wise and the members of his Nonhuman Rights Project assert is both simple and radical: that personhood — the legal prerequisite for having rights of any sort at all — should no more be based on species classification than it is on skin color. Instead, the lawsuits argue that personhood derives from cognitive and emotional qualities that chimpanzees, like humans, possess in abundance.
Tommy and Kiko and Hercules and Leo are not humans, acknowledges Wise, deserving full human rights. They shouldn’t have a right to vote, or to enter a restaurant or a public school. But they and every other captive chimpanzee are enough like us to have a right not to be owned and imprisoned against their will. If it’s not realistic to release them into a wild they’ve never known, they might be sent to chimpanzee sanctuaries, free to live with a modicum of the liberty they deserve. Not because we’ve deigned to be nice to them, but because it’s their right.
Via Andrea Naranjo