Battling to make animals persons

In a recent feature in the NY Times, attorney Steven Wise has defended his quest to gain legal standing and justice for animals in the US.

Wise recounted his journey into the unusual field, and outlined his main reasons for his belief in the legal rights of chimps and other sentient beings.

Like so many others, Wise’s passion for animal rights was stirred after reading Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. “It was a total epiphany,” he recalled. “I just had never thought about what was going on out there with our treatment of animals.”

“I couldn’t think of any other place where my participation could do more good. I suddenly realized this is why I became a lawyer.”

Later, Wise researched extensively cases where non-human legal persons had been represented in court. He saw no reason why animals couldn’t take this status as well.

“A legal person is not synonymous with a human being,” he told the New York Times. “A legal person is an entity that the legal system considers important enough so that it is visible and [has] interests” and also “certain kinds of rights.”

Wise and his colleagues hope that other lawyers and eventually judges and society as a whole can move past what Wise considers the increasingly arbitrary distinction of species as the determinant of who should hold a right.

“For me this has been a 25-year plan. All my books and my courses were designed to help me think through this problem. Now I want to spend the rest of my life litigating. If we lose, we keep doing it again and again, until we find a judge who doesn’t feel that the way is closed off. Then our job is to produce the facts that will allow that judge to make that leap of faith.”

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | animal rights, personhood

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