People will be people and chimps will be chimps

ColumnistJune 15, 2017 

You may recall a television show called “Kids Are People, Too” that ran on ABC from 1978 to 1982. I took great delight in reminding our oldest son that the title of the show contained absolutely no truth at all. I would constantly tease him when the show was airing that kids are not people. People are people, kids are just kids, they aren’t really people yet, I would tell him.

Even now, I have been known to torment young people in our church. When they take food that I like from the buffet line, I tell them that it isn’t for them. I remind them that that particular food is people food; that it isn’t for kids.

While I do the same thing at family dinners, it appears that my grandchildren are wise to my ways. Now, when I use that line, they generally respond that I am not a people. They rather enjoy reminding me that I am not a people — I am a senior.

Last week, a judge ruled, believe it or not, that chimpanzees do not have the legal rights of persons in the state of New York. Apparently we needed a court order to tell us that chimps are not people. And this isn’t the first time that this conclusion was reached by a court.

The Nonhuman Rights Project, founded by attorney Steven M. Wise, was formed to help certain animals obtain legal status. According to their mission statement, some animals are scientifically proven to be “self-aware.” The belief is that they should be given the same rights are people. Also included in their list of “autonomous beings,” one will find great apes, elephants, dolphins and whales.

This was the third attempt by the group to have chimps granted legal protection under the law. This New York case involved two adult male chimps named Tommy and Kiko who were being caged. After this third ruling, Wise issued the following statement:

“For 2,000 years, all nonhuman animals have been legal things who lack the capacity for any legal rights,” the statement read. “This is not going to change without a struggle. That fight has begun and we remain confident that Tommy’s and Kiko’s fundamental right to bodily liberty will be recognized as a matter of justice so that they too may experience the freedom they so desperately deserve. Public opinion has begun to tilt in our favor since we started filing these lawsuits, likely as a result of them.”

While I don’t personally know any chimps, and don’t have any reason to have any ill will toward them, I’m not really comfortable with the notion that they should have the same rights that I have. On the other hand, I know some people who have a great deal of difficulty exercising the rights that they do have. Perhaps in a few isolated instances, a trade-off would be justified.

If we were to grant one or two nonhuman species legal status, where would it end? I mean after all, isn’t your household pet the smartest thing you ever met? Think of all the dogs and cats in the world that should be granted this privilege if it is ever given to a chimp or an elephant. And what about my goldfish?

Frankly, these suits constitute a waste of the resources of an already over-taxed court system. If the group Wise has created is really interested in helping these animals, it would probably be less expensive for them to purchase each one they find in less than desirable conditions and place them in appropriate homes.

I think the court should have ruled that the chimps could be granted the requested rights upon the condition that the petitioning parties prove that they are directly related to the chimps.

David Coffelt is a Harrisonville area resident and his email address is dcoffelt@coffeltlandtitle.com.

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