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NY Court Rules Chimps Not Entitled to Rights

Wesley J. Smith


This case should have been laughed out of court. Instead, the bid by the radical Nonhuman Rights Project received a respectful ruling from a New York appeals court in its attempt to grant writs of habeas corpus to chimpanzees.

As I have noted, animals including chimps are not entitled to rights because none — by their very natures — are capable of assuming responsibilities or duties. The court followed that same line of thinking. From the ruling (my emphasis):

The asserted cognitive and linguistic capabilities of chimpanzees do not translate to a chimpanzee’s capacity or ability, like humans, to bear legal duties, or to be held legally accountable for their actions.

Petitioner does not suggest that any chimpanzee charged with a crime in New York could be deemed fit to proceed, i.e., to have the “capacity to understand the proceedings against him or to assist in his own defense” (CPL 730.10[1])…

Moreover, as noted in an amicus brief submitted by Professor Richard Cupp, nonhumans lack sufficient responsibility to have any legal standing, which, according to Cupp is why even chimpanzees who have caused death or serious injury to human beings have not been prosecuted.

Petitioner argues that the ability to acknowledge a legal duty or legal responsibility should not be determinative of entitlement to habeas relief, since, for example, infants cannot comprehend that they owe duties or responsibilities and a comatose person lacks sentience, yet both have legal rights. This argument ignores the fact that these are still human beings, members of the human community.

Laurence Tribe, the celebrated law professor, supported granting such rights to chimps. That is in furtherance of a very subversive animal rights agenda — known as “animal standing” — that would permit animals to sue (meaning, it would grant animal rights fanatics access to courts to further their own agendas).

The animal rights fanatics argued — as opponents of human exceptionalism always do — that since corporations are deemed persons, chimps should be too. Nope:

The underlying reasoning [of the case granting rights to corporations] was that the corporation’s property was really just the property of the individual shareholders who owned the corporation, and therefore should be protected in the same manner. Again, an acknowledgment that such laws are referenced to humans or individuals in a human community.

Alarmingly, the court “lauded” the goal of establishing rights for animals. No, that is an anti-human objective that is in no way praiseworthy. Whatever standards are established for the proper humane care of animals — and certainly, they should be established — must always flow from our duties as humans, not the fiction that animals are capable of possessing rights.

This will not be the last case brought to establish animal personhood or human-style rights. May they all be dismissed out of hand as frivolous litigation and never again receive a respectful hearing in a court of appeals.

Photo: “Young chimp playing with the water,” by Tambako the Jaguar via Flickr.

Cross-posted at The Corner.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.



animal rightsanimal standingchimpanzeeshuman exceptionalismLaurence TribeNonhuman Rights ProjectRichard Cupp