Professor Steve Wise of the Non-human Rights Project made a presentation at TED describing how he and colleagues have been navigating a course for the transformation of chimpanzees from ‘legal things’ (like chairs or pencils) to ‘legal persons’. The presentation is now available on the TED website, is only 14 minutes long and is well worth your time.
One thing to bear in mind is that he is not talking about ‘giving’ chimpanzees human rights. Instead he argues that it is time to ‘recognise’ the rights of chimpanzees not to be held captive or to be subject to cruel treatment. Listening to his description of the cognitive complexity and prowess of chimpanzees and comparing this with the other ‘things’ – such as corporations, or religious texts – that are today considered ‘legal persons’, or the fact that we have important legal safety nets designed to protect the rights of non-autonomous human beings, it is difficult to understand how this legal disparity remains for chimpanzees.
Rights for non-humans is a discomforting thought for many, not least because it challenges how we behave now, but also challenges our place in nature. But Wise make rational arguments for why the inconsistencies in the law cannot continue.