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Who is a “person”? If corporations can be “persons”, why not chimpanzees? Do sentient non-human animals deserve legal rights?

The Nonhuman Rights Project is a US civil rights organization working to achieve actual LEGAL rights for members of species other than our own.
Its mission is to change the legal status of appropriate nonhuman animals from mere “things,” which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to “persons,” who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty.

The Project has three cases ongoing, all filed in 2013 on behalf of captive chimpanzees: Hercules and Leo, Tommy and Kiko. Two of the four chimpanzees have since been moved from research labs to primate sanctuaries; Stony Brook University has indicated it will no longer use Hercules and Leo in experiments, after nearly five years in its labs.

In a fascinating 33-page decision at the end of July, a New York judge noted “that “persons” are not restricted to human beings, and that who is a “person” is not a question of biology, but of public policy and principle. “(T)he parameters of legal personhood have long been and will continue to be discussed and debated by legal theorists, commentators, and courts,” she wrote, ”and will not be focused on semantics or biology, or even philosophy, but on the proper allocation of rights under the law, asking, in effect, who counts under our law.”

She refused to issue a writ of habeas corpus for the release of the two chimpanzees, holding that she was bound by a precedent that the Project is itself seeking to appeal. However, Judge Jaffe concluded, “Efforts to extend legal rights to chimpanzees are thus understandable; some day they may even succeed…”

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