Something About Chimpanzee Personhood

"This is not a welfare issue," argued Wise, who says existing animal welfare statutes permit Tommy to be kept alone in a cage. "The question is whether there is an unlawful detention here." To which Peters rejoined: What is unlawful about the detention?

So … right. Personhood for chimpanzees … and … go:

Can an animal who possesses the essential qualities of personhood ever be considered, in the eyes of the law, a person?

As of now, the answer is no. But a panel of New York state judges yesterday considered that question, which was posed by a group called the Nonhuman Rights Project on behalf of a 26-year-old chimpanzee named Tommy.

(Keim)

It is a compelling question, yet we should not feel silly for failing to grasp the implications; the range and magnitude are unknown, though we might simply say they are tremendous. Brandon Keim of Wired also offered some background when the case arose last year.

It is easy enough to agree with the proposition that species is irrelevant to personhood if one has cognitive capacity when we stare at walking, talking, and often shooting extraterrestrials on the silver screen, or reading adventures of human assassins who might otherwise fall in love with elves, but one might reasonably suggest we have problems dealing with questions of personhood in real life, insofar as they actually pertain to people we would otherwise already recognize as people. To the other, that does not mean the question of whether or not a chimpanzee counts as a person is without merit.

Still, though, given that all this occurs against a backdrop of an election season in which questions of personhood are emerging as a prominent, confusing, and, apparently, confused issue, the chimp factor is the something of a wildcard. That is to say, it seems rather difficult to suddenly screech up and shift contexts, especially because the implications of the new question could, under certain circumstances—e.g., personhood for chimpanzees—further complicate and confuse the ongoing political context that will, under certain circumstances—e.g., personhood for human zygotes—ultimately become a judicial context.

Yet it remains an interesting question.

____________________

Keim, Brandon. “New York State Court Hears Landmark Chimp Personhood Case”. Wired. 9 October 2014.

—————. “A Chimp’s Day in Court: Inside the Historic Demand for Nonhuman Rights”. Wired. 6 December 2013.

Benen, Steve. “Erst stumbles on ‘personhood’ basics”. msnbc. 6 October 2014.

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