A top news story this weekend comes from a ruling from a judge in New York state. In a decision released this past week, Justice Barbara Jaffe of the New York Supreme Court has ruled that research chimps are not covered under the writ of habeas corpus that protects human prisoners.
The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) brought the lawsuit in an endeavor to recognize the “personhood” of four chimps currently in captivity. The chimps–Hercules, Leo, Tommy and Kiko–belong to New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana, and have been part of research projects with Stony Brook University in New York.
The lawsuits began when the group asserted that the chimpanzees were advanced intellectually and emotionally. They assert that the chimps should not be held in captivity, but released into a sanctuary. These demands were rejected by the courts. However, even in this last decision, Jaffe hinted at sympathy for the idea that animals such as these can ultimately be considered legal persons, although she cited precedent as the reason for the ruling. Her decision noted the concept of conferring personhood on corporations, and that not too long ago in only white males were considered persons under the law.
Perhaps groups like NhRP can take comfort in believing that possibly that sometime down the road personhood might be conferred upon other beings such as cognitively advanced chimps. For now, the rest of us can take comfort in knowing that we are still the dominant species on the planet.