Saturday, 28 June 2008
Human Rights For Apes
The Spanish parliament thinks the chimpanzee deserves human rights. Illustration from Wikipedia.
Spain is becoming a paradise for apes. The environmental committee of the Spanish parliament has approved a resolution that calls for the right to life and freedom for great apes.
The resolution has its roots in the Great Apes Project. Started in 1993 by philosophers Peter Singer and Paola Cavalieri, the project argues that “non-human hominids”, i.e. chimpanzees, gorillas, orang-utans and bonobos, should have the right to life and freedom and be protected from torture. Well-known scientists and activists, for instance Jane Goodall and Richard Dawkins, have given their support to the project.
The Spanish resolution is not the first attempt to give human rights to apes. In January 2008 animal rights activists in Austria failed to secure rights for a chimpanzee they called Matthew Hiasl Pan as the Austrian supreme court judged that an ape could not be a person.
The attempt to elevate the status of apes is based on the evolutionary belief that humans and apes are genetically closely related and have a common ancestor. Natural history museums often put the DNA difference between humans and chimpanzees at 1-2 per cent although several recent studies have suggested that a more correct figure would be at least four or five per cent.
While it certainly is ethical to treat animals well, a disturbing phenomenon is taking place in some European Union (EU) countries that actually weakens the rights of humans. Promoters of Darwinian evolution have usually been reticent about it.
Euthanasia has been legal in Holland since 1984. Dutch doctors have the right to assist in the killing of patients. In his newly released book The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, philosopher and mathematician David Berlinski sees the Dutch experiment as very troubling. He refers to The Journal of Medical Ethics that reported that by 1995 three per cent of all Dutch deaths were assisted suicides and a quarter of those involuntary. Doctor Berlinski asks, “How many scientific atheists, I wonder, propose to spend their old age in Holland?”
Spain does not have a very good reputation for its treatment of bulls, and thus any improvement in animal welfare is a positive development. However, seen in the context of weakening rights for the sick and elderly in Holland, especially the right to life, the Spanish resolution seems rather odd. Animals might soon have more rights in the EU than humans.
Berlinski, David. 2008. The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions. New York: Crown Forum.
Glendinning, Lee. 2008. Spanish parliament approves 'human rights' for apes. Guardian. (26 June). http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/26/humanrights.animalwelfare/print
Roberts, Martin. 2008. Spanish parliament to extend rights to apes. Reuters (25 June). http://www.reuters.com/article/scienceNews/idUSL256586320080625?feedType=RSS&feedName=scienceNews&rpc=22&sp=true