Chimps should have right to attorney, say campaigners

Click to follow
The Independent US

It sounds like the script for a Hollywood comedy, but plans are being hatched in the United States to give chimpanzees the chance to file suits in a court of law.

It sounds like the script for a Hollywood comedy, but plans are being hatched in the United States to give chimpanzees the chance to file suits in a court of law.

The endeavour is being spearheaded by the Chimpanzee Collaboratory, a new coalition of researchers and animal welfare advocates who contend that the 1,500 chimpanzees held in captivity in the US need legal protection from abuse by humans.

And support is coming from some important quarters. The head of software company RealNetworks, Rob Glaser, has contributed $1m (£690,000) to the effort while several academic figures have stepped forward to voice their approval.

A chimpanzee can communicate on roughly the same level as a three or four-year-old human, using sign language. Children most certainly have legal status in the courts, even if guardians file actions for them. In the same way, third parties, such as animal rights activists, would be able to represent the chimpanzees in the courts.

"If a human four-year-old has what it takes for legal personhood, then a chimpanzee should be able to be a legal person in terms of legal rights," Steven Wise, a Harvard University lecturer and author of a book, Rattling the Cage, told The Wall Street Journal. He noted that the primates share 98.7 per cent of their DNA with human beings.

Questions will be asked, however. Is this not a case of America taking its affection for litigation to almost barmy extremes? And where will it end? What about cats and dogs? And goldfish?

Chimpanzees have attracted attention because they are the closest to us in demeanour and intelligence. And there are myriad temptations to mistreat them, because they are so useful in medical research.

Accordingly, some in the biomedical profession are already mobilising to thwart the Chimpanzee Collaboratory. "The chimpanzee example is the beginning of what we view as a slippery slope," suggested Frankie Trull, president of the National Association for Biomedical Research.

"What concerns us is the increasingly litigious nature of those who believe that no animal should be used for any reason."

Comments