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Conference Examines Animal Rights

LAST month, Yale University held the Personhood Beyond the Human conference.

The event was co-sponsored by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, the Interdisciplinary Centre for Bioethics, the Yale Technology and Ethics Working Group, and the Yale Animal Ethics Group.

The conference, the first of its kind, attracted experts from the fields of law, ethics, science and activism to discuss re-examining the status of non-human animals as “things” without rights, and changing the paradigm to a position of personhood with legal rights.

Steve Wise, attorney and founder of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), spoke at the conference, and recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of a chimpanzee named Tommy in New York courts.

Mr Wise spoke about habeus corpus – or the right to bodily liberty, and said essentially that “we’ve put animals into an ever-lasting jail.”

Recognising that it will be a long hard battle, Mr Wise ended his presentation quoting Sir Winston Churchill, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Although most of the discussion surrounded non-human primates, NhRP is also looking to pursue “the low hanging fruit”, such as elephants and cetaceans, not because other animals don’t matter but because there is a considerable body of science that recognises that these animals have critical capacities required for legal personhood designation, including self awareness, awareness of others, complex social relationships, mental time travel, culture, and complex problem solving.

“In the Bahamas, we have incarcerated bottlenose dolphins for over 30 years,” said local activist Sam Dumcombe, who attended the conference.

“It is long overdue that we recognise the rights of these magnificent beings, and afford them their right to live out the rest of their days living as much as possible as a wild dolphin would.

“Seeking legal rights for personhood for non-human animals will be a long struggle, but to quote John E Lewis ‘If not us, then who? If not now, then when?’,”Mrs Duncombe said.

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