A New York state court will be asked to decide whether a chimpanzee is a human too, but this time it is not a question of evolutionary theory. It is a matter of justice and civil rights which could set up a striking comparison between a Chimpanzee and large Corporations.
A non-profit company has filed a lawsuit which seeks to establish “legal personhood” for a chimpanzee named Tommy. The suit is a part of three total suits being filed this week that would also grant the personhood of three other chimps, but there is no word as of now about how it would affect other chimps across the country or chimps that are currently in zoos.
This suit is actually a monumental moment in US law. It is the first habeas petition that has been filed for an animal in the history of the United States. What makes it extraordinary is not that the suit looks for special privileges for the chimps but rather that it flatly claims them to be people and have access to the rights of a person.
Some of the inhumane treatment involved in this case seems clear cut. Tommy lived in a shed behind a used car lot in Gloversville, N.Y. There used to be six chimps living with Tommy, now he is the only one left. How this treatment will be handled is unclear although it appears prosecution could be sought. However, if that will grant Tommy personhood is another matter that is waiting to be decided.
One thing that the chimp activists have on their side is the recent decision by U.S. judges to declare corporations people in certain legal settings. It appears that the animal activists could use the same line of thinking. After all what looks more human, a skyscraper or a chimpanzee?
The lawsuit claims Tommy has complex mental abilities that give him the right now be contained. There is no news as of now as to how this would affect chimpanzees in zoos. It also claims that Tommy’s current living conditions are inappropriate as it is small dark and referred to as a “cement cage” in the lawsuit.
Those seeking Tommy’s personhood assert that chimps have mental abilities that are closely protected when seen in humans but when these same capacities are demonstrated by chimps they are ignored and the chimp is relegated to inhuman treatment.
The lawsuit claims that Tommy in his current living condition looked “terrible” and “depressed.”
Steven Wise, who is president of Nonhuman Rights Project, said that they waited for the earliest possible moment they thought they could win the lawsuit in order to file it. There was no elaboration on why now is a good strategic moment for the lawsuits.
Wise did state that he does plan more lawsuits and that is one is just the start in a long string of a strategic litigation process.
So far there has not been much reaction from sides that fight evolution but expect that to come in the next coming weeks. As Tommy seeks his personhood it will be interesting to see how the correlation between big business and chimps play out.
By Nick Manai