Wed, 21 Dec 2011
In a nation where corporations are people and others want fetuses to be,
a core of philosophers and attorneys are trying develop laws to declare
animals 'legal persons.'
By Sue Russell
Should Animals Be Considered People- - Miller-McCune
Animal lawyers in Queensland have been forwarded this link - this is
something Vegan Warriors believes should pass here in Australia to stop the
mass slaughter of factory farmed animals and our native wildlife.
For the Animals
stories exploring the contentious relationship between the scientific
community that insists animal research is essential to medical progress and
the animal rights activists working to abolish animal experimentation. In
part one, we examine
pressure put on the biomedical research community by an increasingly
savvy animal-rights effort.
On December 19, 1994, animal protection
lawyer Steven Wise -- a deeply patient man -- was frustrated. A decade into
his 25-year plan to upend the fundamental legal principle that animals are
property or 'things' with no more rights than a table or bicycle, he was
barely making a dent.
Wise's passion for animal rights dates to 1979
when reading philosopher Peter Singer's landmark book Animal Liberation
proved both revelation and rude awakening. 'I really felt that I could not
really un-ring that bell,' he says. 'There was more injustice there to be
fought than any I could think of anywhere in the universe.'
found his calling. His grand ambition is for nothing short of a legal
revolution. He wants to systematically overturn more than 2,000 years of law
by winning basic common law rights for other sentient beings we now know
suffer, feel fear, have complex emotions, and possess sometimes startling
levels of intelligence. Welfare laws notwithstanding, unless they are 'legal
persons,' to Wise they have no rights at all in the eyes of the law and
therefore their lives don't count.
He had no illusions that change
could come any way but slowly. 'I realized this wasn't like a 1930s Mickey
Rooney and Judy Garland thing where they say, 'Hey! Let's put on a show!'
But on that watershed day in December -- his 44th birthday -- he had an
'I woke up and said this is not going fast enough,' he
recalls, 'and if I'm going to be pivotal in gaining legal rights for
nonhuman animals -- which I thought I was, and I think I will be -- I'd better
He walked away from his comfortable 18-year law
partnership and founded The Center for the Expansion of Fundamental Rights,
the world's first nonprofit dedicated to achieving legal rights for nonhuman
primates, and later the Nonhuman
In 2000, primate researcher Jane Goodall, who
wrote the foreword, called his book, titled
Rattling the Cage, 'the animals' Magna Carta, Declaration of
Independence and Universal Declaration of Rights all in one.' The Yale Law
Journal dubbed him a 'piston' of the
animal rights movement.
Wise subscribes to Darwin's belief that
any sharp dichotomy between human beings and other animals cannot survive a
basic understanding of evolution.
It's what legal scholar David Favre, a
professor at Michigan State University College of Law and editor-in-chief of
the Animal Legal & Historical Web Center,
calls the culture of, 'How special are we humans? Do we deserve a place of
the gods in which we simply use everything else on the planet?'
Animal law is a growth industry. 'I would call it an emerging field,'
says Frankie Trull, founder and president of the
Foundation for Biomedical Research. 'It's
in its infancy.' Harvard and Georgetown law schools first offered animal law
courses in 1999. Now, approximately 121 U.S. law schools, including the top
10, offer them. There are 160 Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapters
nationally. And by April 2011, 47 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto
Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands had elevated some animal cruelty crimes
from misdemeanors to felonies.
Pets, Vets and Stalking Horses
The animal rights movement may
take aim at veterinarians, warn protectors of biomedical animal research.
Click the image to read the story.
Steven Wise taught animal rights
law at Harvard and at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. He is
now an adjunct professor at Lewis and
Clark Law School in Oregon, home of the U.S.'s first environmental law
journal and, since 1995, the journal Animal Law. And Wise was well ahead of
the curve in 1980 when he filed his first veterinarian malpractice suit. A
dog owner left her dog playing with a big stick and returned to find half of
the stick missing. Fearing he'd swallowed it, she rushed him straight to a
veterinarian. Negligence -- the wrong X-ray view -- failed to reveal the stick
inside the dog, and after suffering through the night, he died. Wise found
satisfaction in suing for damages.
Pepperdine University law
professor Richard Cupp, says that even today, while 'emotional distress'
damages for the negligent death of a child are common, 'If a dog is
negligently killed, in most jurisdictions it would be like destroying a
bicycle. There's no emotional distress; it's just the property value.'
Early on, when Wise made arguments on behalf of a dog, people laughed
aloud in the courtroom. Nevertheless, he was, 'ecstatic' just to be able to
bring cases involving animals before a judge. But by 1985, the feeling
faded, giving way to goals far loftier than pet trusts and animal custody
battles. He'd visited biomedical research laboratories and slaughterhouses,
become a vegetarian, and conceived his quarter-of-a-century plan.
Wise believes that nonhuman animals meet the criteria for 'personhood' and
other human-style rights and protections if they are enough like us to have
'consciousness' or 'mind' ' self-awareness and the capacity to experience
their own existence -- and when they are capable of desiring things and of
acting in a deliberate fashion to acquire them. Chimpanzees, for instance,
use tools, and some can count, make a cup of tea, and communicate with sign
language. African elephants, African grey parrots, dolphins, dogs, gorillas,
orangutans, cetaceans, and others also have varied but impressive mental
Initially, however, Wise's focus is chimpanzees and
bonobos. Chimpanzees share 95-98.7 percent of their chromosomes with humans.
This genetic closeness makes chimps and other primates prime candidates for
certain research studies, but the similarity also powers the animal rights
community's call for a serious rethink on experimenting on them.
believes animals should have rights to bodily liberty and bodily integrity
you can't be touched without your consent, or, criminals aside, be
physically confined. Many who share Wise's reverence for animals, however,
consider his goals unrealistic, undesirable, or both 'undesirable because
giving nonhuman primates human-style civil and legal rights would, they say,
create a mountain of unintended consequences.
David Favre, for
example, a longtime friend of Wise's, stops short of the legal 'personhood'
for animals goal. He advocates for increasing their rights incrementally to
perhaps include the kind of guardianship protections afforded children, the
senile and the insane.
Critics warn that the impact of 'personhood'
could go far beyond scientific research to preclude certain animals being
kept as pets or used as food. They ask where the line will be drawn. Might
bacteria have rights? That's what University of Chicago law professor
Richard A. Epstein asked in a
1999 New York Times editorial, noting that, 'there would be nothing left
of human society if we treated animals not as property but as independent
holders of rights.'
However, philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer,
who co-founded the Great Ape
Project with Italian philosopher Paola Cavalieri in 1993, calls only for
limited rights akin to those afforded humans, such as freedom from torture,
not rights to things like
medical care or education.
In 2008, Spain became the first nation
to give human-like rights to animals after its parliament approved a
resolution supporting Singer and Cavalieri's manifesto of 'great ape
personhood.' It decrees they receive three essential human rights ' life,
liberty, and freedom from physical and psychological torture.
Cupp will tell you about his tight bond with his dog and how much he loves
animals, yet he believes that the moral placing of pets on the same level as
humans devalues humanity and that pets are not equal in value to humans.
There is a broad spectrum of opinion on these issues. And with the same
people who favor laws to protect animals' welfare often simultaneously
supportive of their use in research, in circuses, or as food, they are
Steven Wise's path is clear to him, however,
and he does not waver. His biggest foe is history -- the 'this is how it's
always been done' response. 'But all of the good arguments are on our side,'
he says. When he was starting out, he plugged the names of iconic animal
rights philosophers Peter Singer and Tom Regan into a legal search engine.
Nothing. Shocked, Wise concluded that writings on animal rights had taken a
moral and philosophical approach, not a jurisprudential one, and so he went
After penning law review articles 'that not even my mother
read,' he wrote more books, honing both his philosophy and legal strategy.
His 2005 book,
Though The Heavens May Fall, examined the trial in England in 1772 of
James Somerset, a black man rescued from a ship en route to the West Indies.
The court's decision was a step forward in the slow move towards the
abolition of slavery in Britain. To Wise, that book, 'is a metaphor and a
blueprint for how it can be done for any legal thing, whether you're a black
slave or a chimpanzee or a dolphin.'
As Wise's quarter century draws
to a close, the interdisciplinary
Nonhuman Rights Project
is working full tilt. It's very serious business involving many minds:
political scientists, sociologists, psychologists, lawyers, statisticians,
cognitive scientists, primatologists, cetacean experts, public policy
experts, and computer modelers.
Currently, more than 50 people in six
'working groups' are analyzing relevant state laws and legal precedents.
They are researching, for example, how proponents of gay marriage chose
jurisdictions in which to litigate and how certain high courts deal with
non-autonomous humans like the comatose, mentally retarded, embryos, and
fetuses. They are trying to pinpoint the most promising causes of action and
the friendliest states and jurisdictions in which to file suit.
plan is to file a landmark case demanding state high courts declare at least
one nonhuman animal possesses a legal right -- and is therefore a legal
'person.' Choosing the optimal venue ' perhaps a state whose Supreme Court
is weighted with female judges or has overturned an anti-gay marriage
statute -- is critical. Then the goal is clear: file a case, win it, and
survive the inevitable appeal to the first-ever serious legal challenge to 'thinghood.'
'We want to have the most powerful case that we can in front of them,'
says Wise, 'so maybe they'll realize that they really can't defend
themselves, that what they're doing is just kind of blindly imitating what's
been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years.'
He hopes to bring
the first lawsuit in 2012. A case, he says, will not be hard to find,
although the exact plaintiff -- circus elephant, research lab primate? -- hasn't been determined.
(In October, People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals
filed a lawsuit against SeaWorld on behalf of five orcas it says are
being held in involuntary servitude in contravention of the U.S.
Constitution's 13th Amendment -- which only applies to people.
Favre, writing to the Associated Press at the time, said he thought this
personhood case would not proceed far because the human plaintiffs lacked
Favre thinks Wise sees 'a worldwide view trial that's going to
crystallize all these things and injustices, and the judges are going to see
the light and totally change the system.'
In the mid-1980s, Favre
says he 'subversively taught animal law as part of a course called Wildlife
Law,' because it sounded less radical. Today, he believes that using the law
to protect animals from abusive humans is essential. But his paradigm
sidesteps 'legal personhood' entirely, advocating for an incremental
approach to gaining protections and limited legal rights for animals. He
favors the concept of 'living property,' predicated on some animals already
having limited legal rights that other property, like balky computers, don't
Philosopher Tom Regan has criticized the incremental approach.
He says it backfires because it 'undermines the eventual goal of abolition
by making the terms of bondage less onerous and, therefore, making it less
pressing that any action be taken.'
However, Favre believes
philosophers don't grasp to what extent legal rights are 'a product of
compromise and incremental change and smallness, as opposed to sudden
insight and transformation of a legal system.'
He sees the
Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection Act of 2000, which says
that research animals are entitled to a pleasant retirement, as an example
of incremental progress. It's also further proof to him that although
property, research chimpanzees are 'morally relevant' beings to whom society
has obligations. The same seems true of the National Institutes of Health's
announcement last week that it was rethinking new
federal research involving chimpanzees, although it is maintaining its
current stable of research animals.
'There's no rat retirement,'
Favre says. 'They can kill the rat as soon as the experiment's over. But
they know psychologically you can't just shoot a chimpanzee after the
experiment is over, that there's a moral duty there.'
increased protections akin to those afforded infants and the mentally
incompetent working well without the need to show that primates are
human-like or changing their 'property' status. A chimpanzee can be the
specifically named beneficiary of a trust -- that, too, shows he or she is a
legally relevant being whose interests must be protected.
sees state and district courts as great venues in which to move things
'I'm just a little more pragmatic,' he says. 'I want to tell
the judge, 'We don't need a revolution. In fact, guess what? You're already
halfway down the trail. And it's the normal evolution of how we deal with
new concerns and new ideas, and therefore, Judge, I'm just asking you to
move the ball along a little, 5 yards or 10 yards.''
Favre is less
concerned with crashing through what Wise sees as a high, thick legal wall
separating human and nonhuman animals, and more intent on, 'just fording the
stream, and we just got to find the right rocks to cross over on.'
don't talk about the interest of cars, right?' he says. 'Or any of the other
things that are things. Clearly, we as human beings understand, particularly
now in this world of really extreme ownership of pets, that a dog has
interests. It has desires. It has abilities. It has all sorts of things that
are, in fact, almost childlike. And therefore you can say with a straight
face before a judge, 'Judge, you need to make a decision that's going to
best accommodate the interest of this particular animal. What's in the best
interest of the animal?' It parallels the familiar concept of, 'What's in
the best interest of a child?''
In his paper,
Property,' Favre argues that not all of animals' various
interests have equal weight, and that the law can balance the interests of
humans and of animals, 'and decide if one is superior to the other.'
Richard Cupp favors increasing protections for animals over
expanding their rights. The very term 'animal rights' bothers him
because it is so fuzzy. Society tends to view rights as inherently good, he
says. 'The Civil Rights Movement is the most shining example of where an
expansion of discussion of rights has been incredibly good for our society.'
Yet rights come with a cost and responsibility, and animals 'are not
able to accept responsibilities.' Cupp believes 'personhood' would be more
harmful than helpful, 'because it pretends that animals have the capacity to
engage in a social contract when they don't.'
Animals' roles in
people's lives have changed dramatically from when cows were for milk and
dogs guarded farms -- the view on which the property damages paradigm is
based. In 2009, there were approximately 171 million 'owned' cats and dogs
nationwide, and many people now have animals for emotional rather than
monetary reasons. 'So, it's an appealing argument to say well, then law
should evolve to keep up with society's evolution,' he says. 'My children
might be a little bit more open to Wise's ideas than I am, and their
children might be a little more open yet.' Nonetheless, efforts like a
proposed ordinance in San Francisco to
ban sales of animals as pets have been characterized as
'nutty' by mainstream commentators.
Animal rightists worry that
animal law taught in a university that houses an animal research facility
might take on a pro-research cast. Conversely, Frankie Trull and others in
biomedical research believe that animal law courses are primarily taught
'from an animal rights perspective' and in support of assigning rights of
some kind to animals.
That was the argument of Oregon Health Sciences
University's P. Michael Conn, who has been harassed by animal rights
protesters, in a December 2009 opinion piece for
He wrote that he welcomed as a 'forward step' the use of the law instead of
'violence and threats' to advance concepts of animal rights. But, he noted
that 41 percent of law schools have connections to medical schools, and 69
percent of the schools teaching animal law are housed in universities that
conduct animal research.
'Courses that promote standards for humane
animal care and welfare are unlikely to provoke conflict,' he wrote, 'but
programs championing animal rights or 'liberation' set up adversarial
potential on campuses and pose a serious risk to the future of animal
Joyce Tischler, founder and chief counsel of the
Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) said such
reactions remind her of early environmental law classes, when the refrain
was, 'Oh my God, it's so radical!' She says that Steven Wise aside, courses
are basically animal protection law and may not even include a section on
ALDF attorney Matthew Liebman responded to Conn on
ALDF's website saying
that 'there is no doubt that at least a few animal research programs have
attempted to block the addition of animal law courses or at least alter
their content.' While in a follow-up e-mail he explained that his statement
was 'anecdotal,' he did think Conn's editorial 'demonstrates the anxiety
many researchers feel about the proliferation of animal law classes.'
They are certainly not going away. Lewis & Clark Law School's Center for
Animal Law Studies will present the
9th annual National Animal Law Competitions, an inter-law school
competition in collaboration with the ALDF, at UCLA in February 2012.
Janet Weeks In 1789,
Jeremy Bentham, one of the earliest proponents of rights for animals,
alluding to the limited degree of legal protection afforded to slaves in the
French West Indies by the Code Noir, concluded: "The question is not, Can
they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?" This famous
quotation is frequently used as a slogan by animal rights activists.
Today, however, the question must include, Can they, nonhuman animals,
What all of us fully understand today is that
nonhuman animals are as capable of suffering--and joy--as are humans and for
that reason alone, we are compelled to protect their interests in living.
I like the way Jonathan Balcombe makes the case in his book
Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good:
believed that animals could only feel pain and suffering, then in the
absence of pain and suffering all would be well. If we recognize animals'
capacity for pleasure, then we may conclude that it's wrong to deprive them
of it. Plutarch recognized this nearly two thousand years ago when he
reflected on the killing of animals for food: 'But for some little mouthful
of flesh we deprive a soul of the sun and light, and of that proportion of
life and time it had been born into the world to enjoy.' Ruth Harrison
recognized it two thousand years later in her book on factory farming: 'Have
we the right to rob them of all pleasure in life?'"
So you see, this
has less to do with actual rights or "personhood" of animals and much more
to do with debunking the authority by which humans give themselves the right
to deprive others of their lives and happiness. By what authority indeed!
Who are we to grant ourselves rights to grievously harm human or nonhuman
others? Balcombe argues that humans "have a responsibility not to
frivolously deprive other feeling animals of opportunities to reap the
rewards that life offers." We can always, and authoritatively, make a
compelling case for animal sentience--pain AND pleasure--and that case is
more than enough to demand their legal rights to protection.
Willyboy1257 "WE" do not give ourselves the "right" to deprive
animals of their lives for human consumption. Nature did that several
million years ago. Because some upper class philosopher who's never had to
starve declares that it's wrong to kill animals for our own selfish purposes
does NOT negate the last 2-4,000,000 years of human and animal evolution.
Just try telling a hunter and gatherer not to kill to feed his family and
see what sort of reaction you get. As to the ability of an animal to
experience pain and pleasure being the definition of sentience? POPPYCOCK!
Sentience is better defined as self awareness than the ability to experience
pleasure and pain. To date psychological testing has shown only a few
animals to be self aware. Among those are chimps, elephants, dolphins, and
African gray parrots. Among those species tested and rejected: Dogs, cats,
ungulates, and surprisingly, Gorillas and Orangutans.
Pearl L '.. "We have found that while early man may have done some
scavenging, it was opportunistic. Very little of early human's diet came
"In fact, some archaeologists and paleontologists don't
think we had a modern, systematic method of hunting until as recently as
60,000 years ago," he says.
'How Did We Get Here? The Rise
of The Dominator/Herding Culture
Building on the work of Eisler,
Mason, and others, we can see that the culture we live in today is a modern
continuation of the herding culture that arose in the Middle East and
eastern Mediterranean basin, and that the central defining belief of this
culture is still the same: animals are commodities to be owned, used, and
eaten. By extension, nature, land, resources, and people are also seen as
commodities to be owned, used, and exploited. While this seems logical to us
today as modern inhabitants of a herding and animal-consuming capitalist
culture, this is a view with enormous consequences: the commodification of
animals marked the last real revolution in our culture, completely
redefining human relations with animals, nature, the divine, and each other.
In the old herding cultures animals were gradually transformed from
mysterious and fascinating cohabitants of a shared world to mere property
objects to be used, sold, traded, confined, and killed. No longer wild and
free, they were treated with increasing disrespect and violence, and
eventually became contemptible and inferior in the eyes of the merging
culture's herders. Wild animals began to be seen merely as potential threats
to the livestock capital; likewise, other human beings too began to be seen
as threats to livestock, or as potential targets for raiding if they owned
animals. Battling others to acquire their cattle and sheep was the primary
capital acquisition strategy; the ancient Aryan Sanskrit word for war,
gavyaa, means literally 'the desire for more cattle.' It appears that war,
herding animals, oppression of the feminine, capitalism, and the desire for
more capital/livestock have been linked since their ancient birth in the
commodification of large animals.
Steven Long The way we view animals is changing. For generations
horses have been considered livestock. Now there is a growing movement to
look upon them as something different. The federal Food and Drug
Administration now classifies horses as companion animals. Others are
pushing to change the way they are described to service animals since
livestock generally means food animals.
Steven Long, Editor
Maynard S. Clark, Vegan
over half my natural life, longer than most human earthlings have been alive
- making connections for plant-based diets ever since. I wonder how
one segment of our society can move TOWARDS realizing the personhood of
specific sets of nonhuman persons, while another set (e.g. BLM) can move
away from it (as with funding horse slaughter inspections).
Nosharia4us2 Yet another aspect is the horrifing and barbaric torture
called hallal and kosher killing. Where is peta... silent as ever.
Robert Grillo Thanks for interesting read. I think the title is
intended to discredit the animal rights position though. This framing of the
issue completely misses the point. The question should be rephrased as: If
Animals Are Indeed Sentient, Should They Not Be Granted Moral Personhood and
the Right Not to Be the Property of Humans? The basic right of all sentient
beings, according the general animal rights position, is to not be exploited
and/or enslaved by others and kept as property. "People" have a whole host
of other rights that go well beyond this, so the notion that the animal
rights position is to grant the same rights to animals as people is
ludicrous and a flagrant distortion of the truths behind the animal rights
Willyboy1257 In a word: NO. Animals are no more people than
Corporations are. Sure, you can mess with definitions but the fact remains
that all people are animals but not all animals are people.