Sammy Nickalls
May 28, 2015 8:11 am

Last month, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe recognized two chimpanzees as legal persons when they were being used for biomedical experiments at Stony Brook University in Long Island. She granted the chimps—named Hercules and Leo—habeas corpus, which can be used by a detainee to seek relief from illegal imprisonment.

Now, lawyer for the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) Steven Wise argued on Wednesday that chimpanzees are “autonomous and self-determining beings” and have “personhood rights.”

Detaining Hercules and Leo is all sorts of wrong, according to Wise. “They are the kind of beings who can remember the past and plan for the future,” Wise further explained in court. “The chimpanzees are in prison, being exploited by Stony Brook, and they don’t even know why they are there. We only do that for our worst criminals around us. . . [they are] essentially in solitary confinement, at the mercy of their keepers.”

The Nonhuman Rights Project wants the Hercules and Leo to be sent to a permanent sanctuary dedicated to caring for chimps entitled Save The Chimps in Fort Pierce, Florida. STC currently cares for 255 chimpanzees.

However, SUNY representatives—the state attorney general’s office—believe the petition should be dismissed because it should have been filed in a different county. Also, argues Assistant Attorney General Christopher Coulston, this is the first time a chimpanzee has been granted human rights, and this instance should be no different. “There is no precedent in nonhuman animals receiving this right,” he said, arguing that this would just be a “slippery slope” with no way to draw the line on which animals should receive these rights.

“Those rights evolved in relation to human interests,” Coulston further argued. “I worry about the diminishment of those rights in some way if we expand them beyond human beings.”

Judge Jaffe has not made a ruling as of late, but this isn’t the only ruling like it to be up in the air, according to Buzzfeed. One chimpanzee, Tommy, is currently being held in a cage on a trailer lot; another, Kiko, is on private property in Niagara Falls.

Last month, when chimpanzees were granted the rights to be legal people, executive director of NhRP Natalie Prosin told Science Magazine, “This is a big step forward to getting what we are ultimately seeking: the right to bodily liberty for chimpanzees and other cognitively complex animals. We got our foot in the door. And no matter what happens, that door can never be completely shut again.”

According to the Guardian, Jaffe will rule on the case in the next one to two months. But one thing’s for sure: no matter what happens to Hercules and Leo or what the courts decide, Prosin is right. This is a door can never be shut again.

(Image via Wired)

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