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Personhood and other primates

Personhood and other primates

Although she quickly retraced her steps and redacted the relevant words from her order, a judge in New York yesterday granted a writ of habeas corpus to two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, implicitly granting them status as legal persons, according to the chimps’ attorneys.

The attorneys who brought the petition forward, part of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), argued – before the judge struck the words – that under New York law, “only a ‘legal person’ may have an order to show cause and writ of habeas corpus issued in his or her behalf. The court has therefore implicitly determined that Hercules and Leo are ‘persons’.”

“This is one step in a long, long struggle,” said Steven Wise, the lawyer leading the effort. “She never says explicitly that our non-human plaintiffs were persons but by issuing the order … she’s either saying implicitly that they are or that they certainly can be. So that’s the first time that has happened.” …

A spokesperson for the judge denied that she had implied personhood to the chimpanzees.

There is no word in the Guardian‘s report on the theological arguments for or against, nor the religious implications of (accidentally or otherwise) granting personhood to our fellow primates, although the conservative site Breakpoint, considered and rejected the question during an earlier chimpanzee legal challenge.

What say you?

“Monkey-typing” by New York Zoological Society – Picture on Early Office Museum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Posted by Rosalind Hughes



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David Robinson

I believe God has ordained only one species, homo sapiens, to receive the inherited gift of personhood. If a New York judge wants to grant some form of emancipation to two chimpanzees based on what she perceives to be cruelty toward them, so be it — but not a writ of habeas Corpus on the grounds of their personhood. If members of the species pan troglodytus or pan paniscus (it was not specified which species the “plaintiffs” were) want to convene a court, that is their right, I suppose. But, to my knowledge, chimpanzees have no courts of law — at least in this country!

Philip Snyder

If we can’t grant personhood to an unborn human being, then why should we be able to grant it to a chimpanzee?

Marshall Scott

And that, Philip, is one of the issues to which I refer. Certainly, many do attribute personhood to a human before birth. To attribute rights that need to be defended is to attribute personhood. (After all, our beloved dead are human, but have passed beyond the rights of personhood.) We have faith positions of how we understand and attribute personhood; but those are not statements in civil law. Our processes of law, legislative, administrative, and judicial, have not yet produced a definitive statement about personhood under law.

Freeman Gilbert

@Whit, I agree with you wholeheartedly about “corporate” personhood, but I find the previous paragrah to be woefully lacking. Your criteria for personhood are either present in other primates, or absurd as criteria for personhood. True spoken language? Making fire? Society or pack? Read a good book by somebody who has studied primates, and then let me know what you think.

Eloise Leslie Weaver

Hopefully apes will never be granted ‘personhood’…but I won’t be surprised when it happens. As American culture rejects God’s Word — ersatz causes spring up daily! We place value on everything….but…human life.

Marshall Scott

Whit, I am not so sanguine as you are that we are as unique in our capacities. I think, though, that part of what this raises is that there has not been an explicit statement of what defines personhood for legal purposes. I would suggest that many would prefer that not happen because there are other issues that would also be affected.

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