Monday, August 26, 2002


Nonhuman rights
Florida initiative fuels debate about animal protection
By ERIC SUNDQUIST Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer

Florida voters will decide in November whether to amend the state's constitution to protect pigs....

Voters will consider animal protections in other states as well. While Floridians vote on hogs, Oklahomans will decide whether to ban cockfighting, and Arkansas voters will consider making some forms of animal cruelty a felony.

Across the Atlantic, Germany amended its national constitution this year to protect "the natural foundations of life" for animals as well as people. Switzerland adopted a constitutional amendment in 1992 acknowledging animals as "beings" rather than things.

In short, the Western world, which not long ago ascribed the same moral value to animals as to plants or stones, is having a change of heart:
...In the '80s and '90s, protectionists' protests made fur-wearing controversial and pressured many companies into lessening or halting product testing on animals. With stricter federal controls, the number of animals used in research experiments also declined. Every Western country but the U.S. has stopped experimenting on chimpanzees, for example, and the practice is increasingly rare here....

...The ballot measures, and the popular move among legislatures to increase criminal penalties for cruelty, reflect the growing belief that animals have intrinsic worth, and there are moral considerations in causing them to suffer.

Americans even seem to embrace the concept of legal rights for some animals. According to a 1999 Zogby poll for a chimp-advocacy group, 51 percent of Americans say chimps should have rights "similar to children with a guardian to look out for their interests," and 9 percent say they should have the same rights as adults....

...Writes "The Color Purple" novelist Alice Walker, "The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men."...

Legal personhood for chimps

Protectionists, inspired by the ethical arguments of both Singer and Regan, have advanced various arguments for establishing legal rights for animals. One lawyer who commands attention inside and outside the movement, through two popular books and an association with primate researcher Jane Goodall, is Stephen Wise, who teaches at Harvard and Vermont law schools.

Wise points out that children and the mentally ill are viewed as persons with rights, but not all the rights of a competent adult. He argues that some animals also deserve legal personhood with proportional rights. Animals wouldn't be able to vote, but they might have rights to liberty or bodily integrity.

Humans, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans and Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins clearly qualify for the granting of legal personhood, Wise argues in his 2002 book "Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights." African gray parrots and African elephants may also qualify under a more expansive interpretation.

"It takes a while for these ideas to get a toehold in the legal system," Wise said in an interview. "If you've never seen these arguments before, they can seem strange."

He says that chimpanzees may get rights first, because of their high intelligence and low commercial value. They might be assigned legal guardians, much as parentless children are.

"Once that happens," he says, "there will be a paradigm shift. I predict there will be a gradual extension of rights."...