Friday, May 26, 2006

Bill of rights for Apes now!

Culture: The great ape project first argued for in Spain's Francisco Garrido in parliment now gets more backing from Peter Singer in the Guardian.

In his History of European Morals, published in 1869, the Irish historian and philosopher WEH Lecky wrote: "At one time the benevolent affections embrace merely the family, soon the circle expanding includes first a class, then a nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity and finally, its influence is felt in the dealings of man with the animal world ... " The expansion of the moral circle could be about to take a significant step forwards. Francisco Garrido, a bioethicist and member of Spain's parliament, has moved a resolution exhorting the government "to declare its adhesion to the Great Ape Project and to take any necessary measures in international forums and organisations for the protection of great apes from maltreatment, slavery, torture, death, and extinction". The resolution would not have the force of law, but its approval would mark the first time that a national legislature has recognised the special status of great apes and the need to protect them, not only from extinction, but also from individual abuse. I founded the Great Ape Project together with Paola Cavalieri, an Italian philosopher and animal advocate, in 1993. Our aim was to grant some basic rights to the non-human great apes: life, liberty and the prohibition of torture. The project has proven controversial. Some opponents argue that, in extending rights beyond our own species, it goes too far, while others claim that, in limiting rights to the great apes, it does not go far enough. We reject the first criticism entirely. There is no sound moral reason why possession of basic rights should be limited to members of a particular species. If we were to meet intelligent, sympathetic extraterrestrials, would we deny them basic rights because they are not members of our own species? At a minimum, we should recognise basic rights in all beings who show intelligence and awareness (including some level of self-awareness) and who have emotional and social needs.
It sounds far-fetch and seems to be some nut who wants to get rid of the idea human beings are not the top dog of the chain by elevating or downgrading each creature's status depending on how you look at it. This part of the article gives away the game, this is nothing more than a backdoor way of extending it to all animals.
Some of the opposition stems from misunderstandings. Recognising the rights of great apes does not mean that they all must be set free, even those born and bred in zoos, who would be unable to survive in the wild. Nor does it rule out euthanasia if that is in the interest of individual apes whose suffering cannot be relieved. Just as some humans are unable to fend for themselves and need others to act as their guardians, so too will great apes living in the midst of human communities. What extending basic rights to great apes does mean is that they will cease to be mere things that can be owned and used for our amusement or entertainment. A final group of opponents recognises the strength of the case for extending rights to great apes, but worries that this may pave the way for the extension of rights to all primates, or all mammals, or all animals. They could be right. Only time will tell. But that is irrelevant to the merits of the case for granting basic rights to the great apes. We should not be deterred from doing what is right now by the fear that we may later be persuaded that we should do what is right again.
Basically protecting all animals from the human beings interest, consumption, "ownership" will become the drive behind this new movement. Nothing more than a benign version of PETA to be played over a long term goal. There are laws now that protect animals from animals abuse and gives them certain rights to make sure their lives are to be given high standards by those who have them. This is taking it to the next level.

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