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Legal personhood for non-human animals (Part 1)

Implied, in my view, in the refusals to extend legal personhood to non-human animals – in this case, chimpanzees – was also a fear of the breaking down of the human-animal distinction.

LINDA ROLAND DANILL: ‘The lawsuits initiated by the NhRP [Nonhuman Rights Project] bring the focus to animals’ rights, rather than their welfare, as is generally the focus of animal welfare legislation. As of writing, the lawsuits have been unsuccessful – although Hercules and Leo, two of the chimpanzees mentioned in the introduction – have been moved to a sanctuary… There were no sound, persuasive, or well-argued justifications provided by the Court as to why exactly Tommy and Kiko should not be considered ‘persons’ and therefore refusing to issue a writ for habeas corpus. There was, however, an explicit hierarchy set up in which humans were privileged, by virtue of being members of the ‘human community’ – without further elaboration as to why this privileging is justified…

Implied, in my view, in the refusals to extend legal personhood to non-human animals – in this case, chimpanzees – was also a fear of the breaking down of the human-animal distinction – a distinction that is predicated on human beings’ denial or disavowal that – in spite of, amongst other things, our position as the dominant form of life on earth and our extraordinary capability to manipulate and mould the external world – we are likewise animals (albeit different) nonetheless.

Indeed, as philosophers like Julia Kristeva have argued – human culture itself is fundamentally predicated upon the disavowal and unequivocal exclusion of animals and our animal nature. The philosopher Jacques Derrida has similarly argued that the human comes about through a process of disavowing its animality. This does not mean that we should dispense with our socio-symbolic codes and legal systems and revert back to a state of nature – rather, recognizing that other non-human animals have rights could potentially mean a move towards greater enlightenment, compassion and empathy towards other non-human animals, as well as a greater respect for the environment more broadly, in a movement towards ‘respectful co-existence’. SOURCE…

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