Rights Group Is Seeking Status of ‘Legal Person’ for Captive Chimpanzee
Chimpanzees are not people, no matter how they are dressed up for commercials, but perhaps they are close enough that they deserve some of the same rights humans have. That is what an animal rights group claimed on Monday when it filed a classic writ of habeas corpus, that revered staple of American and English law and tired cliché of detective fiction — not for a human being held unlawfully, but for Tommy, a chimpanzee in Gloversville, N.Y.
This is no stunt. The Nonhuman Rights Project has been working on this legal strategy for years, sifting through decisions in all 50 states to find one that is strong on what is called common law, and one that recognizes animals as legal persons for the purpose of being the beneficiary of a trust.
The leader of the project, Steven M. Wise, who has written about the history of habeas corpus writs in the fight against human slavery and who views the crusade for animal rights as a lifelong project, said New York fit the bill. His legal action added a milestone to a year that has already been remarkable for chimpanzees, with one federal agency taking steps to retire most chimps owned by the government and another proposing to classify all chimps as endangered, an action that would throw up new obstacles to experiments even on privately owned chimps.
Activists have relished their successes, while some scientists have deplored restrictions on the use of the animals, which have played a crucial role in some biomedical research, such as work on hepatitis C vaccines.
Until now, all the actions have addressed the issue of animal welfare, not animal rights. But Mr. Wise filed papers on Monday in State Supreme Court in Fulton County, N.Y., demanding that courts in New York recognize Tommy as a legal person, with a right to liberty, but one that has its limits.
Tommy, the group says, “is being held captive in a cage in a shed at a used-trailer lot.”
The petition does not ask the court to set Tommy free to roam Gloversville, or to send him back to Africa after a life in captivity. It asks the court to remove him from his owners and place him in a sanctuary.
Reminds me of Robert Heinlein’s story Jerry Was a Man thought that was about a chimp genetically modified to be more human-like.
As for “animal rights” – ain’t no such thing.