Human Exceptionalism

Austria Court Refuses to Rule Chimp a Person

The picture to the left is of Hiasl the chimp. An Austrian court just refused to declare him a person. This is good news, but animal liberationists who seek his entry into the moral community of humans will keep at it in Austria and elsewhere until they find a court radical enough to presume to redefine personhood to include animals.

Here are a few excerpts from the AP story with my quick thoughts on the matter:

He’s now got a human name–Matthew Hiasl Pan–but he’s having trouble getting his day in court. Animal rights activists campaigning to get Pan, a 26-year-old chimpanzee, legally declared a person vowed Thursday to take their challenge to Austria’s Supreme Court after a lower court threw out their latest appeal.

Silly lede to the story. Hiasl only has a name because it was given to him by humans. We do that kind of thing, for ourselves and for animals. It is part of what we, unlike any other species, do.

A provincial judge in the city of Wiener Neustadt dismissed the case earlier this week, ruling that the Vienna-based Association Against Animal Factories had no legal standing to argue on the chimp’s behalf. The association, which worries the shelter caring for the chimp might close, has been pressing to get Pan declared a “person” so a guardian can be appointed to look out for his interests and provide him with a home.

No, they want him named a person so they can utterly upset the human/animal apple cart and destroy our belief in human exceptionalism.

The legal tussle began in February, when the animal shelter where Pan and another chimp, Rosi, have lived for 25 years filed for bankruptcy protection. Activists want to ensure the apes don’t wind up homeless if the shelter closes…

Their upkeep costs about euro4,800 (US$6,800) a month. Donors have offered to help, but there’s a catch: Under Austrian law, only a person can receive personal gifts. Organizers could set up a foundation to collect cash for Pan, whose life expectancy in captivity is about 60 years. But they contend that only personhood will give him the basic rights he needs to ensure he isn’t sold to someone outside Austria, where he’s now protected by strict animal cruelty laws.

So, Hiasl’s future could easily be provided for permanently by establishing a foundation and have it purchase him. But caring for the chimp is secondary to the actual advocacy goal. See above.

There is legal precedence in Austria for close friends to represent people who have no immediate family, “so he should be represented by his closest friends, as is the case,” said Eberhart Theuer, the group’s legal adviser. “On these grounds we have appealed this decision to the Supreme Court in Vienna,” he said. The Association Against Animal Factories points out that it’s not trying to get Pan declared a human, but rather a person, which would give him some kind of legal status.

Well, of course he isn’t trying to get the chimp declared a human because the animal is a chimp! This, means, however, that a guardianship is clearly not appropriate. Only dependent humans should have legal guardians. Otherwise, the animals could bring lawsuits and be entitled to all of the other protections at law enjoyed by dependent humans–with animal liberationists the real parties in interest using the name of the chimp (or other animal) to pursue their own ideological agendas.
This issue of chimp and other animal personhood will keep popping up. Indeed, having chimps declared persons is one of the goals of the Great Ape Project. Stay tuned…