Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Chimpanzees as Persons? Bizarre NYC Court Case

Persons or animals? Image courtesy of Delphine Bruyere, Wikipedia.

Joel Kontinen

For several decades, animal rights activists have tried to do away with the distinction between humans and apes. Notwithstanding the genetic difference of roughly 30 per cent, they desire to elevate chimpanzees to personhood status.

Despite several attempts, they have failed. However, a recent campaign came closer to success than the previous ones. As reported by Nature news:

A campaign by animal rights activists to establish the legal personhood of chimpanzees took a bizarre turn this week, when a New York judge inadvertently opened a constitutional can of worms only to clamp it shut a day later. On 20 April, New York Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe signed an order forcing Stony Brook University to respond to claims by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) that two research chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, were being unlawfully detained. The Coral Springs, Florida, organization declared victory, claiming that because such an order, termed a writ of habeas corpus, can only be granted to a person in New York state, the judge had implicitly determined that the chimps were legal persons.”

With legal experts protesting, the judge changed her order, at least slightly:

By that evening, Jaffe had amended the order, letting arguments on the chimps’ detainment go forward but explicitly scratching out the words WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS at the top of the document.”

Habeas corpus is Latin for ‘You have the body.’ It is an old legal concept that was initially part of the Magna Charta (1215). It basically allows the court to ascertain whether a person has been imprisoned illegally.

Previous attempts at blurring the gap between humans and animals include the following:

· In January 2008 a chimpanzee named Matthew Hiasl Pan made headlines throughout the world as activists attempted to get the Austrian High Court to grant it the status of a person. The court refused to do so, however.

· In June 2008 the environmental committee of the Spanish parliament approved a resolution that called for the right to life and freedom for great apes.

· In early 2010, Thomas White, a professor of ethics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, caused a stir by suggesting that dolphins should be treated as ”non-human persons."

· In 2014, professor Peter Singer wanted to define chimpanzees as people.

These attempts stem from a desire to believe in Darwinian evolution, which has no special place for humans and (at least in its orthodox version) does not acknowledge creation or the Creator.

This view has insurmountable theological and scientific problems. It puts death before the Fall and cannot account for the origin of genetic information, which requires a Mind.


Borrell, Brendan. 2015. Chimpanzee ‘personhood’ case sows confusion. Nature news (22 April).