Animal Personhood

Animal Personhood: Lawyer Steven Wise Fights For Chimps To Obtain Legal Rights [Video]

If corporations, as the Supreme Court has decided, have the same legal rights as “persons,” should some animals such as chimpanzees, dolphins, and gorillas also have “personhood” rights under the law? Maybe the idea sounds flat-out crazy to you. How can a chimp be considered a “person”? All we ask is for you to please watch the brief documentary short below and then make up your mind.

First of all, in case you’re thinking that this short film must be some wacky, amateur YouTube thing shot by an animal right fanatic in his basement, know this: The seven-minute film, Animals Are Persons Too, was directed by Oscar-winning documentarian D.A. Pennebaker for the New York Times online Op-Doc series.

Animals Are Persons Too is only part of an upcoming feature-length documentary being produced by Pennebaker — winner of the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement and perhaps best known for the 1967 Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back — and his wife, Chris Hegedus, to be titled Unlocking The Cage. Both the short and the in-production feature follow the quest of attorney Steven Wise and his Nonhuman Rights Project as they bring a full-fledged lawsuit in the New York court system, attempting to establish the personhood rights of four chimpanzee plaintiffs.

The Pennebaker video also contains footage of incredibly adorable, and highly intelligent, chimps.

Wise is careful to point out that “person” is a legal term — he is not attempting to make the case that chimps or other animals are people. “Legal person means that you count in a courtroom,” he told New York PBS affiliate WNET. “You’re not invisible to the judges.”

Wise argues that any animal with “autonomy” should be considered a legal “person.” By “autonomy,” Wise means the ability to make decisions rather than only to act on innate instincts. Chimps fall into that category, Wise contends, as do bonobos, orangutans, and gorillas. African and Asian elephants also qualify as persons under the law, as do dolphins and whales.

Wise emphasizes that he is not seeking full “human rights” for those animals. But he does believe that they are entitled to “such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them.”

In other words, at a bare minimum, animal “persons” would have the right not to be killed or tortured as part of scientific experiments.

Take seven minutes to view this fascinating and often heartwarming video, then you tell us — should these animals have all the rights that legal “persons” possess?

[Image: Screen grab from “Animals Are Persons Too”]

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