Bioethics Discussion Blog: Should Apes Get Human Rights?

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Should Apes Get Human Rights?

From the Spain Herald, Tuesday April 26, 2006.

Socialists: Give apes human rights

The Spanish Socialist Party will introduce a bill in the Congress of Deputies calling for "the immediate inclusion of (simians) in the category of persons, and that they be given the moral and legal protection that currently are only enjoyed by human beings." The PSOE's justification is that humans share 98.4% of our genes with chimpanzees, 97.7% with gorillas, and 96.4% with orangutans.

The party will announce its Great Ape Project at a press conference tomorrow. An organization with the same name is seeking a UN declaration on simian rights which would defend ape interests "the same as those of minors and the mentally handicapped of our species."

According to the Project, "Today only members of the species Homo sapiens are considered part of the community of equals. The chimpanzee, the gorilla, and the orangutan are our species's closest relatives. They possess sufficient mental faculties and emotional life to justify their inclusion in the community of equals."

Though I don’t have any further details yet about this Spanish legislative act, I wonder what my visitors might think about the rationale for giving the simians such rights based on virtual genetic similarity and their "mental faculties and emotional life." ..Maurice.

7 Comments:

At Friday, April 28, 2006 5:31:00 AM, Anonymous Bob Koepp said...

It seems obvious to me that chimpanzees should have precisely 98.4% of the rights humans have, gorillas 97.7%, and orangutans 96.4%. But we can't, in good conscience, stop there. Since we have significant genetic relations to all known organisms, ... well, you get the idea.

Look, even if we owe to all life forms to treat them respectfully, these genetic arguments are just plain stupid.

 
At Friday, April 28, 2006 5:44:00 AM, Anonymous Moof said...

During this time when humans are having to struggle for the sake of human dignity, this is not only silly - it's an outright affront.

I don't believe that we're seeing the whole picture ... I think this is going somewhere else.

They are far more likely to use this argument to disinclude "minors and the mentally handicapped of our species" than they are to add the simian group.

At face value, it's ridiculous to an extreme, and as a lead in to something else, it's offensive.

In any case, I have to hope that a bit of common sense prevails ... however uncommon it seems to have become.

 
At Sunday, April 30, 2006 9:15:00 AM, Blogger LaVon said...

You have got to be kidding me? I believe the resemblance to those primates are noteworthy; however, they are still not human. They're genomic sequence is over 90% similar to ours; yet they are not 100% human. Every percent weighs into the humanhood of these primates. If a human embryo had a gene removed leaving it only 98% human - and let's say this percentile lead the embryo to develop with a human likeness - well now we have a problem on our hands. If it walks like a human, talks like human, does it make it human?

Love the post
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At Monday, May 01, 2006 10:06:00 AM, Anonymous dave buehler said...

Dear Doctor Bernstein,

If any of your fellow bloggers are seriously interested in this subject, I want to recommend two interesting books:

1) The Lives of Animals by J. M. Coetzee, the great South African novelist, which is actually a meditation on the meaning of rights, and

2) Kafka's "Report to an Academy," a fictive lecture given by an ape to an audience of scholars.

Both contain much food for thought.

David A. Buehler, PhD
Providence College

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2006 2:02:00 PM, Blogger Kevin T. Keith said...

I find it striking that the 3 substantive objections above are all predicated upon a completely ungrounded assumption of human exceptionalism - that what's wrong with the idea of rights for non-humans is that it encompasses rights for non-humans. It takes something more than that to make an argument.

The claim of personhood for apes advanced by the PSOE - a claim about which I am highly skeptical, but, I hope, for reasons more coherent than those given above - whether it is right or wrong is at least grounded upon factual claims that have some prima facie moral relevance. Namely, it is asserted that apes putatively possess sophisticated mental faculties similar to those of other, undisputed persons, and that they are closely related, genetically and presumably functionally, to other, undisputed persons. Those arguments are defeasible - specifically, by proving that apes do not possess the morally relevant attributes of personhood - but only by actually engaging them on factual grounds. A mere (implicit) assertion that only humans are persons is both arbitrary and dubious.

 
At Wednesday, May 03, 2006 8:44:00 AM, Anonymous Bob Koepp said...

My comment above is one of 3 objections that Kevin claims are "predicated upon a completely ungrounded assumption of human exceptionalism." Well, Kevin, speaking of arbitrary and dubious assertions... that's a completely ungrounded claim on your part. I only objected to the appeal to crude measures of genetic relatedness as a reason (i.e., justification) for attributing moral rights to non-humans.

I actually believe that we humans, the only moral agents of whom I am aware (please note the "personal" form, i.e., 'whom' rather than 'which'), do have moral obligations to our non-human relatives. In other words, I think we have moral obligations to a huge range of organisms even if they don't qualify as persons. Indeed, I see the fixation on personhood as symptomatic of a very confused, unreflective human exceptionalism, which additionally ignores the crucial difference between moral considerability and moral accountability.

 
At Tuesday, November 07, 2006 7:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I Think it's great that they will get human rights. I hope it will happen. But I think that chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans should be able to go to school, and get a job, and get to go to church.

 

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