From time to time, our contributor Wesley J. Smith has warned in these pages that many animal rights activists are after something more than improving animal welfare—a worthy cause, to be sure. They seek, rather, to elevate animals to equal moral and legal status with humans. See, for example, Smith’s “Habeas Chimpanzee,” December 16, 2013, in which he predicted that animals might be given standing to bring lawsuits (assisted by human counsel, to be sure) and that one day soon we might see courts issuing writs of habeas corpus for great apes and other nonhuman primates.
Such is certainly the declared goal of the Nonhuman Rights Project, which made headlines recently when it sued in New York to open that state’s courts to chimpanzees. The group has been unsuccessful in trial courts and on appeal. But we feel obliged to add the qualification “so far,” now that an Argentine judge has granted habeas corpus to an orangutan and ordered it freed from a Buenos Aires zoo (to an ape sanctuary), owing to its being a “nonhuman person.”
Animals as persons, in a world where human fetuses aren’t? Ordinarily, The Scrapbook is pleased to highlight the prescience of this magazine’s contributors. Not so, in this case. The drive to have apes—and eventually other animals—declared “persons” would subvert Western civilization’s core principle that human life has unique dignity and moral worth. To say the least, we wish that effort every failure.