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NY Times Magazine cover story on legal rights for non humans

I cried today reading a story, then again, watching a brief documentary, on efforts to free a non human using a writ of habeas corpus. That’s a court order that requires the release of a prisoner from unlawful detention. They were hopeful tears. A history making battle has begun, and the world is watching. The story is on the cover of the Sunday, April 27, New York Times Magazine and the video is on the New York Times website. 

The cover photo is of a chimp (animatronic) on the witness stand. The headline is, “His Day in Court.” The subheading is “A chimpanzee is making legal history by suing his captor – and raising profound questions about how we define personhood.”

The article, beginning on page 28, is sensitively written by Charles Siebert, a journalist who has won multiple Genesis Awards for his reporting on animal issues. 

Siebert is covering the work of lawyer Steve Wise and the Non Human Rights Project. They have filed a petition on behalf of a chimp named Tommy, who lives in “a dungeon.”  We read:
“Chimps were chosen as the first clients because of the abundance of research on their cognitive sophistication, and the fact that, at present, there are sanctuaries lined up to take in the plaintiffs should they win their freedom. (There are no such facilities for dolphins or orcas in the United States, and the two preferred sanctuaries for elephants were full.)”

Wise does not rule out the possibility of similar suits, eventually, for other less obvious animals. He says that chimps are the best place to start “But we feel very comfortable in saying that for any nonhuman animal who is autonomous, whatever species they may be, then we will go into court and make the argument that they have a sufficient condition for rights.”

The article reminds us that a person, in the eyes of the law, is not always human, corporations being the most obvious example.

It is heartening to read the somewhat supportive comments made by the judges on the first round of lawsuits. The lawsuits have failed, as expected by Wise, but are now headed to the court of appeals “where most common laws get made.” 

The article is informative and moving. You’ll find it on line at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/27/magazine/the-rights-of-man-and-beast.html 

If you scroll down that page you’ll find a six minute video titled, “Animals are Persons Too,” which sums the issues up nicely. 

You can join the animated discussion on the New York Times website beneath the article. Or send a letter to the editor at 

Letters should include your name, address and daytime phone number (not for publication).

More good news on this issue is that the Oscar winning filmmakers Chris Hegedus & Pennebaker are in the process of making a documentary that follows Steven Wise through the courts as he presses for animal ‘personhood.’ Their Kickstarter campaign started last Wednesday. They are hoping to raise enough funds to keep shooting next fall. Please check out the campaign at  http://phfilms.com/unlocking-the-cage/.

Thanks to all who made sure we saw this article, starting with Karen O’Connell. 

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