Friday, November 01, 2002

NONHUMAN RIGHTS

Animal rights
Confidentiality? Privacy rules? Advocates push fo privileges

By SCOTT LaFEE
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

...Historically, of course, animals have labored under the burden of being considered chattel - mere property, subject to the interests and whims of its owner. The view dates to antiquity, and it still influences every perception in Western society - legal, economic, religious, psychological.

"But times are changing," insists Doug Cress, executive director of the Great Ape Project, an international effort to establish basic legal protections for gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans....

In his book, "Drawing the Line," Wise, the animal rights lawyer who also teaches animal law at Harvard, makes a case for providing legal personhood to specific animals - nonhuman species that he says science has already shown to be intelligent and capable of "practical autonomy."

"I'm not talking about granting rights to every animal. That doesn't make sense. But there are numerous species - and likely more we will learn about - who possess self-awareness, the ability to think, feel, want or act intentionally. You might not want to give certain rights to a horse or a duck, but what about a gorilla or a chimpanzee that can use sign language?"...

Changing laws to promote compassionate, reasonable animal protection is all well and good, said Epstein. "But we are all specie-ists and there is a real line to be drawn." Animal rights proponents like to point out that chimpanzees share 98.7 percent of the same DNA as humans, he said. They note that an adult chimp is the intellectual equivalent of a human toddler, and thus deserving of the same rights a human baby is inherently born with.

But the difference, said Epstein, is potential.

"Human children are what they are because of their potential for development, something chimps and other animals do not have."

Maybe not, concedes Tischler. But the right not to be caged or subjected to medical experimentation shouldn't be limited only to beings capable of building zoos or inventing drugs.

"It's hard to imagine such basic rights for animals when we can't even get rats covered by the Animal Welfare Act," said the ALDF's Tischler. "But something's going to jump, leap or fly over that wall someday."