A noble but misguided effort seems to have come to an end. A New York appeals court has ruled that chimpanzees Kiko and Tommy have no legal rights on par with humans. The Nonhuman Rights Project has been litigating a habeas corpus petition for Kiko and Tommy for more than three years. While the court was sensitive to the plight of the chimpanzees, granting them humane legal protections — when the legislature did not — was a bridge too far.
That’s probably right.
Writing for a unanimous court, Judge Troy Webber is right:
Writing for the court, Judge Troy Webber agreed that chimpanzees and humans share many behavioral, cognitive and social abilities.
But these shared abilities “do not translate to a chimpanzee’s ability or capacity, like humans, to assume legal obligations,” Webber wrote.
In other words, a chimpanzee cannot be prosecuted for a crime or considered legally capable of defending itself in court – which is why, Webber wrote, “even chimpanzees that have caused death or serious injury to human beings have not been prosecuted”.
It’s a good standard, you can’t have human legal rights if you can’t fulfill human legal responsibilities.
A chimpanzee, despite all his qualities, for example, cannot understand what obstruction of justice is or how to commit it. He cannot be expected to wait for informed consent before touching the privacy of other beings. When angry, his main strategy is to throw feces at his opponents. The chimpanzee’s behavior would be illegal and unacceptable in human society, yet the chimpanzee could not be held legally responsible for acting like a chimpanzee.
It would be wrong to grant chimpanzees the privileges of humanity, without holding them accountable to other humans. In such a world, a chimpanzee could be President of the United States, and yet be legally immune from all consequences of his actions.
I wouldn’t want to live in such a world.