Steven Wise: Chimps have feelings and thoughts. Should they also have rights?
Animal rights lawyer Steven Wise, from the Nonhuman Rights Project delivers a TedTalk on why he thinks some animals, starting with chimpanzees, should have their legal status changed from, ‘things’ to ‘persons’.
In current law, all nonhuman animals are viewed as legal ‘things’ in the same way as a pen, or a car is; and so they do not have legal rights. However, for the last 30 years, Steven Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project team have been campaigning to change this legal status so that appropriate animals* can be considered legal ‘persons’. This does not mean to consider nonhuman animals as humans, merely to make them legal ‘persons’ in the sense of the law, so that they can experience liberty and equality. He argues that if important cultural or religious items such mosques, sacred books, or rivers can be deemed as a legal person, then why can’t animals?
“It's not a matter of legal semantics; recognising that animals like chimps have extraordinary cognitive capabilities and rethinking the way we treat them — legally — is no less than a moral duty.”
Wise decided to begin this change with chimpanzees because their cognitive abilities have been studied extensively and are well known and documented. Chimpanzees are conscious, they have moral capacity, and they have culture. These are just some of the characteristics Wise and his team have used to build the case to file a law suit asking for the legal status of these animals to be changed.
In December 2013, the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits on behalf of four chimpanzees currently imprisoned in New York State, and results are still pending.
*Further lawsuits for other species such as elephants, dolphins, whales and other great apes will be considered. This is on the basis that there is clear scientific evidence that these species also possess complex cognitive abilities as self-awareness and autonomy.