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Spain Makes a Monkey of Naturalism

Spain's parliament has taken the dubious first step in support of "our evolutionary comrades" in adopting special rights for apes akin to human rights, the first time any nation has done so.

The decision of the Spanish parliament is manifestly the triumph of sentimentality over reason. Although the leftist politicos who supported the ruling no doubt view themselves as enlightened citizens of a scientifically progressive Europe, their emoting and posturing has blinded them to the contradictions entailed by their position.

Take one criterion mentioned: genetic relatedness. Without question a human zygote has a far greater degree of genetic relatedness to King Juan Carlos than does any gorilla, chimp, or orangutan. Yet this same criterion is flouted by the Spanish government when it comes to the question of abortion. Thus the notion of genetic relatedness holds between any adult human and any great ape, not between any adult human and a human embryo. (Which makes one wonder if it is legal in Spain to perform an abortion on a mother chimp.) This reminds one of a young woman who was staunchly pro-abortion but was opposed to eating eggs. The justification she proffered to explain her stance was that eggs reminded her of chicken embryos that don't make it to hatch. She felt for chickens; she did not feel for unborn children.

Or consider the other criterion, evolutionary closeness. The phylogenetic tree is a continuum, so no objective line can be drawn at the great apes versus, say, monkeys or tigers. In fact, the Spanish grandees can only show their commitment to naturalistic principles by extending "human rights" to all mammals. One might even call this extension MMU (pronounced moo) or the Mammalian Manumission Union. Certainly this would make all cat, dog, and pot-bellied pig owners happy and make the ruling more personal, more relevant. The downside, though, is that bull-fighting would have to cease as would most cow and pig farming. (And we know how much Spaniards love their pork.) Regardless, that the parliament limited its ruling to great apes only shows that the members cannot or will not follow this criterion to its logical conclusion.

Bioethicist Wesley J. Smith has followed the great apes trail for several years and has more on this at his Secondhand Smoke blog.