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‘Property’ or ‘Person’?: How animal rights could open new moral frontier

A 2018 poll that replicates a Gallup poll found that nearly half of U.S. respondents said animals should enjoy the same rights as humans, and that nearly 9 out of 10 support some form of legal rights for animals.

EOIN O’CARROLL: ‘In a forested reserve in central Florida, Sandra is settling in to her new home. Thanks to a 2015 ruling by a judge in Argentina, her new life represents another hole in the increasingly porous wall separating humans from nonhuman animals. The 33-year-old orangutan is, according to Buenos Aires Judge Elena Liberatori, a “nonhuman person,” and thus entitled to some of the legal protections enjoyed by Homo sapiens, including the right to humane living conditions, which she is now enjoying at the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Florida.

For Minnie, an Asian elephant at a Connecticut petting zoo, a move to a sanctuary is not so clear. In a last ditch effort to apply the “person” label to Minnie, the Florida-based nonprofit Nonhuman Rights Project filed a supplemental brief with the Connecticut Appellate Court arguing that, as a person, Minnie has rights of bodily liberty protected by habeas corpus (a writ not issued in the Argentine ruling). The appellate court could hear the issue as early as January.

Sandra’s resettlement and the legal wrangling over Minnie are this month just the latest instances of a broader shift in how the public is understanding the moral considerability of nonhuman animals. Current law classifies animals as things, with no legal standing. In recent decades, science has revealed that a variety of nonhuman animals appear to share traits once believed to be unique to humans. Philosophers, activists, and legal scholars, spurred on by an increasingly animal-conscious public, have been working to establish the moral standing of our fellow animals, to shift their status from property to person.

This concern applies to not only high-profile cases like Sandra and Minnie, but to the thousands of elephants, dolphins, orcas, chimpanzees, and other mammals known for their sophisticated cognitive abilities that are held in laboratories, zoos, animal theme parks, and roadside attractions… Public sentiment in the US regarding nonhuman animals seems to be shifting in favor of animal rights. In 2015, Gallup found that nearly a third of Americans said animals should be given “the same rights as people,” up from 2008 when just 25% said so. Just 3% in the recent survey said animals “required little protection from harm and exploitation.”

The trend may be accelerating: A 2018 poll that replicates the Gallup poll questions found that nearly half of U.S. respondents said animals should enjoy the same rights as humans, and that nearly 9 out of 10 support some form of legal rights for animals… But should that future system assign personhood status to animals? Professor Gruen… cautions that, by expanding the concept of personhood, we end up measuring nonhuman animals’ moral considerability in terms of traits that are important to us – such as problem-solving ability – and not the things that makes animals’ lives meaningful to themselves’. SOURCE…</strong

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