Several people I interviewed by email provided very thoughtful comments that ended up not fitting into my latest article on the Nonhuman Rights Project’s ongoing chimpanzee personhood lawsuit. Their comments:
Paul Waldau,teaches animal law and ethics at Canisius College:
"First thought—I hope Wise’s approach works, and I hope that the judges who hear the appeal are courageous. The likelihood of that on a nonhuman animal issue is fairly low, but this is not new—indeed, it has long been the prevailing reality.
Second thought—the legal system is a complicated place, not only because legal concepts are ancient and thus vague and part of a system that is VERY human-centered. The system is also complicated because the very structure of the system allows people (including sitting judges) to dodge issues if they see those issues as politically sensitive. So if an advocate like Wise makes arguments that seem to (or do in fact) draw on either tradition or common sense, the judge has a variety of ways to evade the mandate of tradition or common sense and, instead, do as she/he likes. The system can, frankly, be unprincipled simply an issue is “before its time” and the like.
This is why I started out this message with “I hope” and then mentioned the issue of a courageous judge.
Whatever you write, please push people to recognize that our legal system can, IF WE WANT IT TO, lead us in being responsible citizens in a more-than-human world. To date, sadly, our legal system has been a bulwark of a very dysfunctional human centeredness, just as it has so often been a mainstay of the privileged elites in our society. I think the system has SOME virtues, but frankly we, the people, must over time INSIST that those virtues are more important than political convenience and the privileges of elites who care little, if at all, about other living beings and the environment.”
William McGrew, evolutionary primatologist at the University of Cambridge:
"No really novel thoughts, just continuing mixture of optimism and frustration at the slow speed of grinding wheels of justice. But we must be patient. Luckily, chimpanzees continue to do amazing things that we scientists try to do our best to pass on to the world at large. It seems like every week there are new findings to impress us. All digits crossed for next week’s hearing."
Mary Lee Jensvold, experimental psychologist and former director of the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute:
"I am struck by the diversity of responses from the judges in the various cases. Each case wasn’t simply shut down. To me this says that this is a very gray area indeed. It gives me hope that this case may move even further forward, as it is."
Photo: Steve Wise (foreground) and Liddy Stein (background) of the Nonhuman Rights Project.