In a stinging rebuke to the concept of giving rights to animals, New York State Justice Barbara Jaffe denied the animal rights group’s request to extend habeas corpus protections for 2 chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, interned for medical testing at Stony Brook University on Long Island. The case was an attempt by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) to inaugurate the idea that the apes are legal persons in an attempt to codify rights for animals as a legal precedent while, simultaneously, obliterating the use of animals for medical experiments.
According to The New York Times, Judge Jaffe ordered a hearing on April to deliberate on wether or not it was legitimate for Hercules and Leo to be granted habeas corpus protections with the end goal of the two chimps to be transferred to a Florida animal sanctuary. The judge took the case very seriously and in her 33 page decision took the time to correctly describe the long history of habeas corpus and how the law helped in the fight against discrimination against women and freeing African-American slaves. Despite this Judge Jaffe could not conclude that Hercules and Leo could be considered people.
For the purpose of establishing rights, the law presently categorizes entities in a simple, binary, ‘all or nothing,’ fashion,” the justice wrote, noting: “Persons have rights, duties, and obligations. Things do not.”
“Animals, including chimpanzees and other highly intelligent mammals, are considered property under the law,” she continued. “They are accorded no legal rights,” beyond being free from mistreatment or abuse.
Jaffe went on to state that while such definitions of people and personhood could evolve over time she also said her ruing was bound by a 2014 state appellate court decision concluding that chimpanzees are not legal persons due to a chimpanzee’s inability to take on duties or responsibilities” of adult humans (such as voting, jury duty or paying rent).
The New York State attorney general representative, Eric T. Schneiderman, who defended Stony Brook University remarked that the suit was a radical attempt to blur the legal boundaries that exist between humans and animals. His office knew the risks of the NhRP’s case, stating in a memo filed in May and quoting from The Times:
Any such extension of the writ could set a precedent for the release of other animals held in captivity, whether housed at a zoo, in an educational institution, on a farm, or owned as a domesticated pet, and enmesh New York courts in continuing litigation.
What I have read of the decision, the judge ruled correctly and I am very glad the New York State attorney general’s office recognized the threat of extending habeas corpus protections to Hercules and Leo. Animal rights groups (like NhRP & PETA) allege (based on the logic of French philosopher Renee Descartes) that rights are contingent on a being’s ability to feel pain. However, the underlying reasoning of the decisions of judges that have heard this case essentially and correctly state rights are based on a being’s ability to think. I would further state that it is mankind’s ability to think and reason that makes humans nature’s favored species. Animals lack any rational faculties or sense of morality in which their primary means of survival is predatory instincts and sensory perception.
I do not advocate nor do I condone cruelty toward animals. However, so-called animal rights groups’ definition of cruelty, just like their views on when rights apply and activities like litigating cases like this, is only geared to destroy individual rights in order to eradicate human existence. Though NhRP may appeal the ruling, fortunately Judge Jaffe’s decision is another setback in the animal rights movement’s case to legally equate animals with humans.
UPDATE 8/2/2015: Stony Brook University announced Hercules and Leo will be retired due to the research involved for the program they are in is completed.