This really should an April Fools joke, but it seems to be for real. A group in Austria are going to court to get a Chimpanzee declared Human.
No, no, no. No matter how intelligent or sophisticated this particular Chimpanzee maybe, he does not ‘deserve to be treated as a human’; he deserves to be treated as a Chimpanzee. The real issue is what is appropriate treatment for a Chimpanzee, and by association what is appropriate treat for animals in general.
A Chimpanzee is self-evidently not human, and arguing that they should be treated as such on the grounds of 96% shared DNA is absurd. If one were to use that as a yardstick, then how much shared DNA is enough? If we drop the bar to 88% mice can be Human too! 50% and bananas are in as well!
Even if the bar is set at 95%, presumably limiting the new ‘human’ race to just the higher-order primates, what does this actually mean? Do Chimpanzee’s get the right to vote? Can they enter into contracts? Do they have a right to an education? What happens to Zoo’s, can they look forward to being prosecuted and sued for false imprisonment?
Unsurprisingly, it is this last question that provides what I believe is the real motive behind this ludicrous perversion of the judicial process. Money.
It seems that the person wishing to become the guardian of the Chimp in question fully intends to sue the vivisection laboratory that ‘kidnapped’ him from Sierra Leone in the first place. And of course, as legal guardian, she would have full control of any damages that might be awarded. To provide for the Chimps old age, naturally.
Either that, or it’s just a bunch of extreme Animal Rights nutters, and a lawyer who’s spotted a way to potentially make a huge pile of cash. I’m not sure which is worse.
The case does raise an interesting question about what it means to be Human, and what it is that distinguishes us from all other species of animal. But this is surely a philosophical question that no amount of legal silliness is ever going to answer. I can only hope that the Austrian courts show some common sense, and throw this out at the earliest opportunity and leaves the claimants with all the costs.