BY: KAROUN CHAHINIAN
The Manhattan Supreme Court made history when two chimpanzees were recognized as possible legal non-human persons in order to hold a “personhood” rights hearing.
Justice Barbara Jaffe ordered that a cause and writ of Habeas Corpus must be presented on behalf of the two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, who are arguably being held unlawfully for experimentation at Stony Brooke University on Long Island.
The suit was filed by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) in 2013 and it was rejected twice in Suffolk County before they decided to re-file it in the New York County Supreme Court in March 2015.
Hercules and Leo were the first animals in history to have been potentially recognized as “persons,” which is a legal requirement when fulfilling the two-step Article 70 common law and writ of habeas corpus.
The public hearing took place on May 27th, the lead attorney from NhRP, Steven Wise representing the chimpanzees. Wise is fighting for Hercules and Leo to be freed and taken to Save the Chimps, an animal refuge in Ft. Pierce Florida—the closest thing to their African natural habitat, but in North America. With 13 artificial islands and a large lake alongside 250 other chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo would be living in their own natural oasis, far from illegal testing and cruel captivity.
Wise argued that the chimpanzees are “autonomous and self-determining beings,” by referencing research on Chimpanzees’ levels of emotion and consciousness. He argued that due to their cognitive ability, they deserve the basic right to freedom.
The defense then used the slippery slope argument by explaining that this case could result in setting a precedent for future animal rights cases. “[This case] could set a precedent for the release of other animals,” said Christopher Coulston, assistant attorney general, “[such as those] housed at a zoo, in an educational institution, on a farm, or owned as a domesticated pet.”
Another argument the defense presented was that as a legal person, you have a set of responsibilities and a civil duty to contribute to society, which chimpanzees cannot fulfill. This point goes back to a petition in December in a New York appeals court that was asking to recognize Tommy, a 26-year-old chimpanzee, as a legal person. Justice Karen Peters in return denied the petition because chimpanzees cannot participate in society or be held legally accountable for their actions.
Wise responded beautifully. She argued that by that logic, the legal personhood of children or those with severe physical or mental disabilities could also be drawn into question. Yet both are considered people under the law.
PhotoL © fotogaby
Jaffe’s final ruling is still yet to be released.
Due to being so genetically similar to humans, chimpanzees have been the subject of experimentation and research since Darwinism became a scientific truth. Harry Harlow, a psychologist known for his controversial experiments on chimpanzees in the ‘60s-‘70s, inadvertently became the “poster child for the emerging animal-rights movement” because of the extremes of his experiments.
Harlow began breeding his own chimpanzees to cut the costs of having them imported from India. In order to limit disease and maximize physical growth, he kept the primates isolated.
The “Pit of Despair” involved keeping baby chimpanzees isolated in a cramped metal cage for months, or even years. The isolation wouldn’t result in a direct death, but the emotional toll witnessed would cause the primates to have a tendency to rock back and forth in their cage, walk in circles and self mutilate. The emotional shock resulted in chimpanzees dying as a result of self-imposed starvation.
Harlow’s extreme scientific research accidentally sparked in the beginning the animal rights movement when other scientists disagreed with his methodology.
Sadly, chimpanzees are still held in captivity and subjected to experiments. Harvard just closed its Primate Research Centre in May 2015. There are 733 chimps still in labs and hundreds more owned privately. If Hercules and Leo are recognized as legal non-human persons and freed from Stony Brooke University, it could set a precedent for the protection of chimpanzees nationwide.
Photo: Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/flickr/cc)