[Vision2020] Progress Made on Animal Rights around the World

Nicholas Gier ngier006 at gmail.com
Fri Feb 1 12:33:35 PST 2019

This column indirectly serves as a note on the recent anniversary of Roe v.
Wade. For more read my article on abortion at
Much of the info in this column comes from a recent report in The Economist
(12/28/18). The long version is attached.
Hail to all creatures great and small!

*Progress on Animal Rights Around the World*

Many cracks have appeared in the hard shell that has enveloped, for
centuries, the traditional belief in human uniqueness. All the claims have
fallen away: some animals are self-conscious, some (even crows and parrots)
have cognitive skills, whales and dolphins have their own languages, and
the great apes, crows, dolphins, and elephant painters use tools.

The European Union’s Lisbon Treaty recognizes animals as sentient beings,
and New Zealand and the U.S. have joined these 28 countries in this view.
Three American states now allow a pet’s interests and feelings a role in
any divorce settlement. At the Clever Dog Lab at the University of Vienna,
scientists have proved that dogs have a sense of fairness.

Dolphins have 40 percent more neo-cortical area in their brains than we do,
and they have rich emotional and mental lives. Dolphins have passed the
“mirror self-recognition test,” which proves that they join the great apes,
whales, elephants, and humans in possessing self-consciousness. Dolphins
are also tool users: they take sponges in their mouths and dig out food in
the sea floor.

In 2013 India’s environmental ministry proposed that dolphins and whales
are “non-human persons with their own specific rights,” and performances by
them in such venues as Sea World would be prohibited. Following up in 2014,
India’s Supreme Court ruled that “every species has a right to life and
security, and life means something more than mere survival or instrumental
value for human beings.”

            In July 2015, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe
initially ruled that she would consider a request for a writ of *habeas
corpus* for retired lab chimps Hercules and Leo. This is an age-old legal
instrument that bars arbitrary imprisonment, and, in this case, that would
assume chimp personhood. In her final brief Judge Jaffe corrected that
implication, but she did concede that this campaign “may someday succeed.”

In May 2018, the New York County Supreme Court ruled 5-0 against
granting *hapeas
corpus* to chimps Tommy and Kiko. Responding to the argument that these
apes could not “carry out legal duties or be accountable for their
actions,” one of the justices did concede that “the same is true for human
infants and comatose human adults,” who have a right not be imprisoned

In 2014, a court in Argentina ruled that Sandra, an organutan in a Buenos
Aires zoo, “was a non-human person.”  This was an animal welfare case and
not a request for *habeas corpus*. In another case in Argentina, however, a
judge did find that a chimpanzee named Cecila was a non-human person and
she had been illegally imprisoned. Unlike the American chimps above, Cecila
is now allowed to live the rest of her life in a sanctuary in Brazil.

            On December 14, 2018, Steven Wise filed a writ of *habeas
corpus *on behalf of Happy, an Asian zoo elephant. In the New York Supreme
Court Wise argued that “the zoo’s imprisonment of Happy deprives her of her
ability to exercise her autonomy in meaningful ways, including the freedom
to choose where to go, what to do, and with whom to be.” Sadly, Happy
awaits the decision in solitary confinement.

            I believe that the criterion for a legal right to life should
be, in contrast to the traditional requirement of rationality, the ability
to feel pain. Laws pertaining to the humane treatment of animals recognize
this, and, significantly, the medical consensus is that human fetuses do
not feel pain until 22-28 weeks. Therefore, women should have a right to an
abortion before that time.

I challenge all those who claim to be “pro-life” to be consistent, and join
me in my vegetarian diet and my moral commitment to all creatures great and

Nick Gier taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. Much
of the information was drawn from *The Economist *(12/28/18).


A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they
shall never sit in.

-Greek proverb

“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.
Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance
from another. This immaturity is self- imposed when its cause lies not in
lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without
guidance from another. Sapere Aude! ‘Have courage to use your own
understand-ing!—that is the motto of enlightenment.

--Immanuel Kant
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