Wednesday, August 07, 2002

TOWARD PERSONHOOD FOR CHIMPANZEES

Education Supplement - Summer 2002
by Jessica Winter
Chimp Change
August 7 - 13, 2002

When Marc Jurnove first visited the Long Island Game Farm Park and Zoo in the spring of 1995, he found Barney, a chimpanzee, living in bleak isolation, with only a swing to distract him and no other chimps in sight. Concerned, Jurnove sought legal action. However, the case that followed, Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Glickman (1998), did not focus on Barney's psychological well-being, oddly enough, but that of his human observer. As one of the deciding judges wrote, "Mr. Jurnove's affidavit is an uncontested statement of the injuries that he has suffered to his aesthetic interest in observing animals living under humane conditions."

Of course, none of the interested parties in this case were actually convinced that animal welfare is merely a matter of taste. But the notion of "aesthetic injury" is just one means of circumventing a hard legal fact: Property can't sue, thus neither can animals, nor can a guardian ad litem bring criminal or civil action on their behalf. Some animal rights advocates are hoping that will soon change. In Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals (2000) and the recently published Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights (both Perseus), attorney Steven M. Wise proposes "legal personhood" for certain highly intelligent nonhuman species, beginning with our evolutionary next-door neighbors: chimpanzees and bonobos...

...they push the envelope even further by drawing an analogy between great apes subjected to biomedical research and the ordeal of slaves in the United States. The chimpanzee Jerom died at age 13 after he was repeatedly infected with strains of HIV at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center at Emory; in a 2000 speech, Laurence Tribe declared that Jerom had been "enslaved." The Animal Law casebook, co-edited by Pamela Frasch (the second edition was just published by Carolina Academic Press), includes a section on slave disputes. Wise's next book will chronicle the life of James Somerset, a slave in England who made a successful legal journey to freedom. "It's the story of how a thing became a person under the law," Wise says. "The thing in 1772 was an African human being; I would argue the thing in 2002 is certain species of nonhuman animals. I'm hoping that even if you don't care about animal rights you'll find the story interesting, but it's also one large metaphor for what I'm trying to accomplish."...

But a cognitive scale to measure animal minds could provide a basis for the most divisive and wrenching of issues: deciding which species, if any, can be ethically used in invasive experimentation. (No fewer than 10 scientists who work with animal models—ranging from cardiovascular disease in lab rats to AIDS in primates—either declined or did not acknowledge interview requests for this article.) A practical-autonomy rubric could potentially separate those animals who feel pain from those who feel pain intelligently—that is, those who suffer.

On this count, it's safe to say that even the staunchest supporters of animal use in biomedical research feel some measure of regret or ambivalence about the use of great apes. Invasive chimpanzee experimentation all but ceased in Great Britain after the early '70s, and the government formally prohibited the practice in November 1997. Japan has also called a moratorium. Stateside, chimps are still used in investigations of malaria and hepatitis C. In the '80s, hundreds were infected with HIV in clinical settings, but in 1999, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases called a halt to new infections.

"Because chimps take such a long time to progress to AIDS, they are not a practical model for developing vaccines," explains Lillian Lee Kim, chief of public relations at the Yerkes center.... Paradoxically, chimps' physiological similarities to people—which is the most compelling reason both for and against their use in biomedical research—ruled them out of conscription into the war on AIDS....