Culture & Ethics Icon Culture & Ethics

New York High Court to Rule Whether Elephants Are “Persons”

Photo credit: Geran de Klerk via Unsplash.

The greatest threat posed by the animal-rights movement is an advocacy thrust known as “animal standing.” The idea is to have animals declared “persons” and treated akin to human beings with developmental disabilities so that “they” can bring lawsuits in court directly, which of course would actually be brought by animal-rights zealots. That would grant “rights” to animals — first, those sometimes called “higher” mammals, chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, etc. — but eventually all fauna.

When I bring this up in speeches, the usual reaction is eye-rolling, “Ha ha. It will never happen here.”

Never mind that it already happened in Argentina, where a judge declared an orangutan a “nonhuman person.” Never mind that a federal court ruled that animals could be granted standing under the U.S. Constitution. Never mind that Judge Eugene M. Fahey — of the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court — wrote that chimps should be given rights in a non-binding opinion (dicta). And never mind the money and intensity of the animal-rights movement to shatter what they call “the species barrier.” Complacency rules the day.

It Shouldn’t

The New York Court of Appeals has taken a case to determine whether an elephant, and perhaps other animals, should be deemed “persons.” From The Last Resort story (my emphasis):

New York High Court to Determine Whether Animals May Be Entitled to Fundamental Legal Rights

In the matter of Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. v. Breheny, Case No. APL-2021-00087

Issue: Whether New York common law should be modified to extend fundamental legal rights, including entitlement to habeas relief, to a non-human animal such as an elephant.

A nonprofit organization whose stated mission is to change the common law status of certain non-human animals brought an action against the owner of an elephant, seeking to change the elephant’s legal status to that of a “person.” Specifically, the organization sought recognition of certain fundamental legal rights, including entitlement to habeas relief.

The elephant’s owner sought to dismiss the action based on precedent limiting a writ of habeas corpus to humans. The trial court agreed with the owner and dismissed the claim, and the mid-level appellate court affirmed. The appellate court stated that judicial recognition of fundamental legal rights in a non-human animal would lead to a labyrinth of questions that common law processes are ill-equipped to answer, and that the issue is “better suited to the legislative process.”

Does this mean the court will necessarily grant personhood to an elephant? No. But it does indicate that a number of high court judges believe the case is of sufficient substance to rule upon rather than — as the court should —laugh the case out of court. Moreover, Judge Fahey is still on the court.

Animal Welfare, Animal Rights

Of course elephants should be treated properly according to their capacities and needs. But animal-welfare regulations and laws are very capable of accomplishing that. Animals should not be granted rights.

Animal welfare and animal rights are not the same. Rights ideology claims that “a rat, is a pig, is a dog, is a boy,” meaning there is no moral distinction between humans and animals. In contrastanimal welfare properly holds that humans have a higher moral value, and, that as we benefit from their use, we have a concomitant duty to treat animals humanely.

That distinction is crucial. Animal welfare is an expression of human exceptionalism. Animal rights, in contrast, subverts human exceptionalism — the backbone of universal human rights — and threatens our thriving.

Because if animals are persons, by definition, they cannot be owned, nor used for human benefit. That means no medical research, no food animals, no leather, and eventually, pet ownership made a formal legal guardianship complete with enforceable fiduciary duties — that is, if we can have pets at all.

Let’s hope the Court of Appeals rejects the animal personhood notion out of hand. Until they do, I will be holding my breath. Because we live in culture-destroying times and this is as subversive of Western civilization as it gets.

Cross-posted at The Corner.