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Steven M. WISE
Animals are regarded as “legal things,” incapable of having rights and treated as articles of property. In contrast, humans are deemed “legal persons,” possessing intrinsic value and the capacity for an infinite number of legal rights as the owners of “legal things.”
The term “animal” encompasses the enormously diverse biological kingdom of animalia, which comprises more than 1.25 million known species that fall along a vast continuum of consciousness, sentience, general intelligence, and autonomy.
At one end of this spectrum of mental capacity and awareness are animals such as great apes, cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), and elephants – who possess a complex consciousness and self consciousness, exquisite sentience, robust general intelligence, and a powerful sense of autonomy.
The Nonhuman Rights Project is a pioneer when it comes to pushing for animal rights. The Nonhuman Rights Project’s team is working with legal groups on four continents to assist them in achieving legal personhood for “nonhuman animals.” The goal of the Nonhuman Rights Project is, at least when it comes to unlawful detention, to have autonomous and self-determining animals declared to be legal persons.
These newer animal rights campaigners’ demand for fundamental legal rights for nonhumans are often misinterpreted as demanding “human rights” for nonhuman animals. In fact, they are demanding legal rights that are appropriate to the levels of cognition that scientists are able to determine through their work. According to the Nonhuman Rights Project, chimpanzees are entitled to “chimpanzee rights,” elephants to “elephant rights,” etc.
It is time we recognize that we share the planet with other species with similar fundamental interests and that our failure to protect those interests both wrongs the animals and subverts the core values and principles that protect our own.