Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Going Ape" [Megan]

The struggle over what, exactly, gives human beings value was given a nod — a dismissive one  — when an April 21st decision by a New York judge granted a right to chimpanzees that had hitherto only been granted to legally recognized "persons."

A judge granted Hercules and Leo, two chimpanzees that currently reside in a research facility at Stony Brook University, New York, the right to challenge their "unlawful" imprisonment (respective writs of habeas corpus). The decision is preceded by numerous attempts to have the chimps' case heard over the last year and a half.

According to the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), Hercules and Leo, in addition to two other chimpanzees being held privately elsewhere, are "too cognitively and emotionally complex to be held in captivity." The group claims the apes should be moved to a chimpanzee sanctuary.

According to Science magazine, the decision is the first that effectively grants personhood status to animals in the U.S.

To be very clear, I do not oppose the promotion of respectful treatment — humane treatment — to animals like Hercules and Leo. Indeed, I expect the pursuit of such from human beings.

I do, however, oppose legal rights that recognize chimpanzees as persons when those rights are not observed for many human beings — especially, in this case, unborn ones.

The inconsistency is ghastly but not surprising in a culture that grants "personhood" — or value — according to function over nature.

According to the article, the chimpanzees were deemed valuable persons because of an unspecified level of cognitive and emotional complexity.

Who decides what level of complexity is sufficient?

How does that practically effect human beings, whose cognitive and emotional abilities/expression vary from person to person? Must those whose cognitive function is higher be granted a superior "person" status over others? The same applies to emotional complexity. Is the stoic personality a lesser degree of person? What of children, who are cognitively and emotionally immature in comparison to their parents? It could be argued that, in some scenarios, those attributes vary for a single person. Would that individual's status then fluctuate, his/her rights wax and wane?

Beneath that jumble is the grounding question — the kicker, as it were. Why should cognitive and emotional complexity ground valuable personhood and not some other function/trait/ability? And who gets to decide? Discomfort is the tip of the iceberg if that decision rests in the hands of one New York judge.

There is no morally relevant difference between unborn human beings and born ones that justifies the killing of the former. Certainly not a difference that gives two apes a voice in the court of law while unborn human beings continue being silently slaughtered by the thousands each day.

A robust understanding of the intrinsic value of human life is inclusive. It affords animals like Hercules and Leo a sanctuary. And it affords unborn humans the simplest and most profound right — to live.

1 comment:

  1. "Who decides what level of complexity is sufficient?"

    We draw arbitrary lines like this all the time in law. Consider that we declare a person an adult (with all adult privileges) when they turn 18.

    "Why should cognitive and emotional complexity ground valuable personhood and not some other function/trait/ability?"

    Well everybody has to give it some trait. It in the case of many pro-lifers, it's DNA (or is it -- do the sperm and egg merely just have to make contact with each other to be considered a human---what exactly happens during the 12-hour process of conception to make the magic happen?) I suppose the reason people use cognitive complexity as a value is because there is a large range of conscious experiences a human can have (that say, a rock can't have.) It we ever discovered that trees had the ability to be conscious, feel pain, love, we'd be forced to consider the ethicality of cutting trees down. Also remember that when the brain completely ceases to function, it is legal to put a person in a box and bury them. So to answer your question, those rights are eventually lost. Finally, if level of cognitive complexity is of no value, let us remember that there is no reason for calling a late-term abortion more serious than an early-term abortion.


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