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The Courts Science

Lawsuits Seek To Turn Chimpanzees Into Legal Persons 641

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-wann-be-like-you-hoo-hoo dept.
sciencehabit writes "This morning, an animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) filed a lawsuit in a New York court in an attempt to get a judge to declare that chimpanzees are legal persons and should be freed from captivity. The suit is the first of three to be filed in three New York counties this week. They target two research chimps at Stony Brook University and two chimps on private property, and are the opening salvo in a coordinated effort to grant 'legal personhood' to a variety of animals across the United States. If NhRP is successful in New York, it would upend millennia of law defining animals as property and could set off a 'chain reaction' that could bleed over to other jurisdictions, says Richard Cupp, a law professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, and a prominent critic of animal rights. 'But if they lose it could be a giant step backward for the movement. They're playing with fire.'"
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Lawsuits Seek To Turn Chimpanzees Into Legal Persons

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  • Jerry Was A Man (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday December 02, 2013 @05:46PM (#45578319) Homepage Journal

    (Full text) [willmorgan.org]

    Heinlein saw this coming in 1947.

    • by Penguinisto (415985) on Monday December 02, 2013 @05:50PM (#45578381) Journal

      ...if such a thing passes, am I the only one who sees a potential push for marriage laws to be adapted similarly?

      Before you freak out totally, I'm not necessarily referring to anything involving humans in the mix, but think of such things as racehorse/purebred animal breeding and etc.

      Could become one hell of a can of worms... (oh, wait, that brings up another thought - are worms eventually getting rights too?)

      • by Cryacin (657549) on Monday December 02, 2013 @05:57PM (#45578481)
        Will somebody think of Caesar?
      • "Get your hands OFF ME, you damned DIRTY APE!" [theforbidden-zone.com]

        I hate every ape I see
        From chimpan-"A" to chimpan-"Z"
        No, you'll never make a monkey out of me

        Oh my God, I was wrong
        It was Earth all along

        You've finally made a monkey
        Yes, you've finally made a monkey out of me!

      • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:13PM (#45578689) Homepage Journal

        Other primates, even chimpanzees and gorillas, cannot give informed consent, so marrying them would never be justifiable for the same reason marrying a four-year-old is not reasonable. We need a whole lot more evolution and/or alien contact and/or resurrection of neaderthals and/or robots before there's anything non-human to meaningfully get freaky with.

        As for limits on personhood (re worms), there are a number of animal rights movements, all with slightly different agendas. I'm sure there are probably some who go so far as to include worms, but the science doesn't really favour it since many worms (such as the laboratory scientist's favourite, Caenorhabditis elegans) are dumber than a Roomba.

        • by ultranova (717540) on Monday December 02, 2013 @07:09PM (#45579289)

          Other primates, even chimpanzees and gorillas, cannot give informed consent, so marrying them would never be justifiable for the same reason marrying a four-year-old is not reasonable.

          However, animals are not, in fact, infants, so it's not like there's anything in particular that would need justifying. After all, the default is that you can do anything you like as long as other people have no legitimate reason to stop you, and the main disagreements come over what counts as a legitimate reason.

          That the rest of society needs to entertain the tought, even hypothethically, with whether or not to formally recognize a relationship between (wo)man and monkey does highlight why giving marriage a legal status is probably not a good idea. It's ultimately a religious ritual and should be left outside the scope of secular society.

          We need a whole lot more evolution and/or alien contact and/or resurrection of neaderthals and/or robots before there's anything non-human to meaningfully get freaky with.

          Have some faith in humanity [tulpa.info], or at least it's hormones :). Why wait for aliens when you can use applied psychology to make your own?

          I swear, if someone found a way to sexualize Tokamaks we'd have fusion power in a year...

          • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Monday December 02, 2013 @07:37PM (#45579559) Homepage Journal
            Marriage is a contract in modern law, not just a ritual; this is why informed consent matters. It has been shown that chimps and gorillas have intelligence comparable in many regards to that of a child [wikipedia.org]; most importantly it is still debates as to whether or not they have theory of mind. Thus, no sex and no contracts, and no marriage. Alimony, for example, is problematic.
      • You know what they say: "Once you've had chimp. you'll walk with a limp".
    • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:00PM (#45578531) Homepage Journal
      Jerry was a race car driver.
    • by Jhon (241832)

      NOT really. Maybe when we have a chimp that can sing jinglebells, count and talk we can say this.

    • I saw this coming when I decided on a sig line.

    • Re:Jerry Was A Man (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Eggplant62 (120514) on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:32PM (#45578917)

      Hey, corporations are people. Extending that to chimps isn't too far a stretch.

      • by camperdave (969942) on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:45PM (#45579051) Journal

        Hey, corporations are people. Extending that to chimps isn't too far a stretch.

        How do we know the chimps want to be brought down to that level?

    • Re:Jerry Was A Man (Score:5, Informative)

      by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday December 02, 2013 @07:32PM (#45579515)

      "Heinlein saw this coming in 1947."

      No, he didn't.

      Heinlein invisaged chimpanzees genetically enhanced to be more intelligent and more like humans.

      Chimpanzees are not human. They don't think like humans, they don't behave like humans, they aren't physically built like humans.

      Of all these things, probably the most important is that they don't think like humans. At all. Chimpanzees do not understand non-verbal communications even as much as dogs do. They're just not people.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Heinlein invisaged chimpanzees genetically enhanced to be more intelligent and more like humans.

        Yes, I'll give you that. But remember that Heinlein was probably a racist, the story was written in 1947.

        Of all these things, probably the most important is that they don't think like humans. At all. Chimpanzees do not understand non-verbal communications even as much as dogs do. They're just not people.

        Well, I don't know about chimps, but dogs and cats are people. Folks consider their animals family (and mine h

      • by nuckfuts (690967) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @03:47AM (#45581703)

        Chimpanzees are not human. They don't think like humans, they don't behave like humans, they aren't physically built like humans. Of all these things, probably the most important is that they don't think like humans.

        The point is not whether chimps are human; it's whether they are persons.

  • The Vote (Score:4, Interesting)

    by invid (163714) on Monday December 02, 2013 @05:47PM (#45578333) Homepage
    Does this mean they will be able to vote?
    • by lxs (131946)

      As long as they pay their fair share of taxes I'm OK with this.

      • by zlives (2009072)

        probably get replaced by robot monkeys...

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Are you saying the poor should not get a vote??

  • food (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Janek Kozicki (722688) on Monday December 02, 2013 @05:48PM (#45578341) Journal
    I'm sorry but there's no difference between livestock (chicken, cows, horses, etc...) and experiment sujects (mice, chimps, dogs, etc...)
    • Re:food (Score:5, Funny)

      by lxs (131946) on Monday December 02, 2013 @05:52PM (#45578399)

      Humans are used as experimental subjects too and are by all accounts quite tasty.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      There is. We try to make food animal's lives as comfortable as reasonably possible and kill them in a humane way. Experiment subjects are often deliberately made to suffer, infected with diseases or otherwise made ill.

      Coming back to the topic at hand some apes are clearly very intelligent and experience complex emotions. This is an odd way to go about protecting them, and frankly I don't know enough to know if captivity is necessarily bad for them, but generally speaking we do try to minimize the suffering

      • Re:food (Score:5, Informative)

        by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Monday December 02, 2013 @07:12PM (#45579307)

        " kill them in a humane way"

        No. We kill them in a *cheap* way. Humane too, providing it doesn't conflict with the 'cheap' part. There is huge commercial pressure to make meat (and related products) as cheap as possible - that's why battery hens and the feedlot were invented.

        The standard method of disposal for live male chicks (A byproduct of egg manufacture - half the chicks are useless as egg-layers) is to drop them live into a meat grinder. Why do this? Is it because factory owners are sadists? No, it's simply because that's the cheapest way to dispose of them. It would just cost too much to have a human painlessly execute each one, or even to waste factory space and maintenance costs on an elaborate nitrogen chamber setup. Dropping them live into the grinder is the most cost-effective means. Those feeling guilty can at least be satisfied that their pain, though doubtless severe, will also be brief.

        Religious slaughter excepted. That's a bit of an odd case, as the rituals were set in stone millenia ago and resist alteration.

        • Re:food (Score:5, Informative)

          by AmiMoJo (196126) * <(mojo) (at) (world3.net)> on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @06:22AM (#45582089) Homepage

          Well, perhaps in the US, but in Europe we do have standards and they do add considerable cost. When the standards are not met the meat cannot legally be sold here. Dropping live chickens into a meat grinder is definitely illegal here. Animal welfare in the US seems to be quite poor in comparison.

          Religious slaughter is illegal in some EU countries, but unfortunately legal in the UK.

    • Re:food (Score:4, Insightful)

      by JoeMerchant (803320) on Monday December 02, 2013 @07:24PM (#45579437)

      Actually, experiment subjects are treated with much more care, respect and regulation, when compared to most livestock.

    • Re:food (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Subm (79417) on Monday December 02, 2013 @07:50PM (#45579677)

      I'm sorry but there's no difference between livestock (chicken, cows, horses, etc...) and experiment sujects (mice, chimps, dogs, etc...)

      Yes, none of them is a legal person. Monsanto, however, is.

      Figure that out and what it means about the values of our legal system.

      Most posts so far are comparing chimpanzees to other animals, like humans and rats, ignoring that we've already given person status to entities that have no physical body, let alone a brain.

  • Some people are so darn moronic they make chimps look superior by comparison, yet only people get the vote.

    Oot GaRoot for President 2016

  • Hmmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by excelsior_gr (969383) on Monday December 02, 2013 @05:48PM (#45578347)

    Chimps are no more legal persons than corporations are. Oh wait...

    • by kamapuaa (555446)

      Well to be fair corporations do pay taxes.

    • Re:Hmmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by phantomfive (622387) on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:48PM (#45579073) Journal
      Corporations aren't people. You can realize this when you think that a corporation is not allowed the right to vote. Corporate personhood is just a legal shorthand for talking about the collective rights of the individuals that make up the corporation.

      The concept has been perverted by activists who hear the word 'personhood' and think they understand what it means without even bothering to read wikipedia. These are the people of which Churchill said, "the best argument against democracy is a 2 minute conversation with the typical voter." They can't think to educate themselves, they'd prefer to be outraged.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by SuricouRaven (1897204)

        Corporations can't vote because the managers know that one more vote isn't going to make much difference. They still provide the most important function: When a corporation breaks the law, they may face a fine. Only rarely does the manager who ordered the illegal action face any personal consequence. The most they have to fear is a stock price fall. Thus they ask the obvious question: Will the corporation make more money from this action than the expected fine when we get caught?

      • They don't need to vote. They just buy whatever side wins. Some just keep both sides on the books at all times. Corporations have more influence over politics than you. Also: Gerrymandering is a thing; [snagfilms.com] Ergo: Your vote means less than squat.

  • by grumpyman (849537) on Monday December 02, 2013 @05:51PM (#45578393)
    ...I read "Lawsuits Seeks To Turn Lawyers into Chimpanzees".
  • Only temporary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Travis Mansbridge (830557) on Monday December 02, 2013 @05:52PM (#45578407)
    If freed, chimpanzees would be unable to follow basic laws and would likely need to be locked up in imprisonment anyway.
    • Re:Only temporary (Score:4, Insightful)

      by east coast (590680) on Monday December 02, 2013 @05:55PM (#45578443)
      Perhaps but it would open up all other kinds of questions about things like the buying and selling of the animal (slavery), using the animals in entertainment settings or medical testing without concent.

      This isn't as simple as it seems on the surface.
      • Re:Only temporary (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:08PM (#45578637)

        Perhaps but it would open up all other kinds of questions about things like the buying and selling of the animal (slavery), using the animals in entertainment settings or medical testing without concent.

        Laws prohibiting cruelty to animals should be sufficient to prevent any problems for the situations you mention.

        Rights have no meaning without responsibilities; animal rights are a contradiction in terms.

      • Re:Only temporary (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Monday December 02, 2013 @07:45PM (#45579635)
        Yes, and then the likelihood of them going extinct would increase exponentially. Chimpanzees compete with humans for the resources they need to survive. Any creature which competes with humans for the resources it need to survive that does not have economic value to humans WILL go extinct (unless humans go extinct first). This is not a statement of "the way things should be". It is a statement of the way things are. It would be nice if it was not true, but that does not change the fact that it is true. This lawsuit is attempting to make eliminate the economic value to humans of chimpanzees.
    • by suutar (1860506)
      Hmmm. Maybe the prison industry should be backing this too; they can take over the zoo industry and increase revenue.
  • by Cro Magnon (467622) on Monday December 02, 2013 @05:53PM (#45578411) Homepage Journal

    If politicians are considered people, chimps certainly would qualify.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 02, 2013 @05:54PM (#45578435)

    Where exactly do they plan on releasing these chimps at? NYC? These animals likely cannot be returned to the wild and would likely face certain death in the wilderness, or the urban jungle for that matter....

  • A bigger risk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by naoursla (99850) on Monday December 02, 2013 @05:57PM (#45578471) Homepage Journal

    This decision will also be used precedence by the machines to decide how humans should be treated post-singularity. Choose wisely.

    • Machines will know better than use lawyers and legislators to decide stuff.
    • by c0lo (1497653)

      This decision will also be used precedence by the machines to decide how humans should be treated post-singularity. Choose wisely.

      Post-singularity: wait until a political correct court rules that one cannot exclude a human soul was reincarnated in an AI, thus granting personhood to the petitioning AI and making from powering it down a murder act. And, assuming the AI cannot physically move, also granting the right to a disability pension more than enough to pay for the power bills.

  • by waddgodd (34934) on Monday December 02, 2013 @05:59PM (#45578495) Homepage Journal

    I'll start: "You blew it up! You BASTARDS!"

  • Not black and white (Score:5, Interesting)

    by goodmanj (234846) on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:06PM (#45578607)

    Nope. Chimps aren't human, and don't deserve civil rights. Especially not Second Amendment rights. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhxqIITtTtU [youtube.com] )

    But seriously, that doesn't mean we're free to treat 'em badly. We tend to draw a black-and-white distinction between persons and nonpersons. If it's a nonperson, we can do whatever we want with it, torture, butchery, it's all good. But it's not that simple. Living things exist on a spectrum of intelligence and "person-ness", from bacteria to plants to fish to cats to chimpanzees (and from fertilized egg to full-term fetus, if you want to go there). Our morality needs to reflect that.

    So no, chimps don't get rights. But they should get the respect they're due as almost-persons.

  • Easy Plan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stormy Dragon (800799) on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:17PM (#45578751) Homepage

    Step 1: declare chimps person and demand they be released
    Step 2: arrest now-homeless person-chimps for trespassing
    Step 3: make incarcerated person-chimps do whatever they were doing before as prison labor

  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:17PM (#45578761)

    As humans, I believe we have a responsibility to treat creatures with a humane stewardship but this lawsuit is pushing an agenda other than humane stewardship. This is the exact kind of thing which makes people roll their eyes every time a vegetarian speaks up about the living conditions of feed-lot beef, or the destruction of bottom trawling and bycatch.

  • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:29PM (#45578885) Homepage

    I imagine that chimps imprisoned in human jails might make some interesting reality TV shows.

  • by g0bshiTe (596213) on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:31PM (#45578907)
    Will those chimps be required to petition for citizenship? If they are given citizenship will they be required to pay taxes? Will they be required to get Affordable Healthcare?
  • by SlithyMagister (822218) on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:40PM (#45579007)
    Personhood implies social responsibility.
    This is much more than paying taxes, it involves a wide range of social interactions including employment, self-reliance, participation in government etc.

    Chimps if "released" could not function in our society. Releasing them into the wild would be a death sentence for most lab animals.

    They would still need to be cared for, and are unlikely to be able to contribute much.

    I do not see how a judge could make a finding of personhood under (what little I know of) American law.
    • by Culture20 (968837)

      Personhood implies social responsibility.

      Not where I live. There is no tie between personhood and self-sufficiency or social responsibility. A mentally retarded serial killer rapist neo-nazi quadriplegic with lyme disease is still a person. He's a bad person who may not understand the difference between right and wrong, and he can't take care of himself, but he's still a person.

  • I knew it (Score:5, Funny)

    by vikingpower (768921) <exercitussolusNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:54PM (#45579137) Homepage Journal
    ...there is hope for me, a code monkey !
  • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Monday December 02, 2013 @07:11PM (#45579299)

    Does that mean they have to attend school? Do they have to pay taxes? Can they apply for unemployment benefits? Are they recognised as citizens? Can they not be discriminated based on race/species? Is throwing poop protected by freedom of speech?

    Stop being fucking stupid you animal huggers.

  • Won't fly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DaveAtFraud (460127) on Monday December 02, 2013 @07:15PM (#45579337) Homepage Journal

    There is a much better argument that a fetus is a person and deserves protection under the law but the anti-abortion types haven't managed to get that idea recognized by the courts or enacted as law through the ballot box. I don't agree with their argument or what the anti-abortion types are trying to do by making it but I can still see some validity to their argument. Given that the courts have considered whether a fetus is a person from the moment of conception and said "no", I don't see the courts granting "personhood" to chimpanzees.

    O/T: This does give rise to an amusing situation. The folks who push "personhood" for a fetus would probably vehemently oppose granting the same designation to a chimpanzee (fundamentalists see man as on a whole different level than other animals). Likewise, the people pushing personhood for chimps would be some of the more liberal types and would probably be very "pro-choice".

    Cheers,
    Dave

  • by dbc (135354) on Monday December 02, 2013 @08:29PM (#45579923)

    So, if humans can sue to say that monkeys are not property, but deserve rights as humans, then what is to stop my cat from suing to have me legally declared it's property and servant? After all, that would only be making the de facto the de jure.

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