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Court Declares Orangutan "Non-Human Person"!


I have been warning you and warning you: It takes just one judge, wanting to make history, to kick the props out from under our tottering societal embrace of human exceptionalism.

In Argentina -- next door to Brazil, where a judge was previously poised to grant a writ of habeas corpus to a chimp, when the animal died -- a court has declared an orangutan a "person." From the Reuters story:

An orangutan held in an Argentine zoo can be freed and transferred to a sanctuary after a court recognized the ape as a "non-human person" unlawfully deprived of its freedom, local media reported on Sunday.

Animal rights campaigners filed a habeas corpus petition -- a document more typically used to challenge the legality of a person's detention or imprisonment -- in November on behalf of Sandra, a 29-year-old Sumatran orangutan at the Buenos Aires zoo.

In a landmark ruling that could pave the way for more lawsuits, the Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) argued the ape had sufficient cognitive functions and should not be treated as an object.

The court agreed Sandra, born into captivity in Germany before being transferred to Argentina two decades ago, deserved the basic rights of a "non-human person."

One hopes this will be overturned on appeal. If it isn't, some will simply shrug. Others will laugh and roll their eyes.

But indifference is the enemy of maintaining a righteous society and there is nothing funny about erasing human exceptionalism. "Breaking the species barrier," as Peter Singer put it in The Great Ape Project, will have a calamitous impact on human self-regard, and eventually, freedom.

The animal rights agenda -- completely unnecessary to protect animal welfare -- won't elevate animals to the level of humans, but will reduce us to the value of animals. And that means that the weakest and most vulnerable -- the disparaged and the outcast -- will eventually lose their inherent protections based simply on being human. 

I don't have time here to make the argument again: It took an entire book to engage in my A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy.

But my good friend novelist Dean Koontz was absolutely correct -- in the same way and for many of the same reasons that C.S. Lewis was in The Abolition of Man -- when he wrote in the book's introduction that from seemingly small shifts, portentous forces are set in motion:

If they [the animal-rights movement] established through culture or law that human beings have no intrinsic dignity greater than that of any animal, the world would not be a better place for either humankind or animals.

Instead, it would be a utilitarian nightmare in which the strong would destroy the weak, in which power-crazed leaders would destroy everyone who loved peace, in which the wealth of the world would be concentrated in the hands of a murderous few, in which mercy would be unknown and the only virtue would be the ability to survive, in which the only right would be the right to die.

These lawsuits have been filed here. This will just fuel the ideologues' zeal.

Our courts must say no, and do so with unequivocal force and ringing eloquence. Human well-being and liberty are at stake.

Cross-posted at Human Exceptionalism.

Image credit: CIFOR/Flickr.