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Going ape over "rights"
Posted by: McQ on Sunday, June 11, 2006

Apparently the Spanish government has pretty much taken care of all of its human business and now turns to a very pressing subject: rights for apes:
Spain could soon become the first country in the world to give chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and other great apes some of the fundamental rights granted to human beings under a law being proposed by members of the ruling Socialist coalition.

The law would eliminate the concept of "ownership" for great apes, instead placing them under the "moral guardianship" of the state, much as is the case for children in care, the severely handicapped and those in comas, said the MP behind the project, Francisco Garrido.
Said another way, only the government could "own" apes, etc., but it just wouldn't call it that.
Great apes held in Spanish zoos would be moved to state-built sanctuaries, unless there was a risk that moving them would harm their emotional welfare, he said.

The law would also make it a criminal offence to mistreat or kill a great ape, except in cases of self-defence or medical euthanasia.
Said another way, the state won't call them "zoos" but these sanctuaries would essentially be the equivalent as far as the apes are concerned. Apparently returning them to their natural habitat has never been considered.

Of course not everyone is impresseed with criticism coming from some pretty disparate groups:
The Roman Catholic Church has expressed concerns about his resolution.

The Archbishop of Pamplona and Tudela, Fernando Sebastian, has said that only a "ridiculous or distorted society" could propose such a law.


Amnesty International's Spanish branch has also expressed concerns, saying that humans have yet to see their rights fully guaranteed. A senior member of the Spanish opposition Partido Popular, Arturo Esteban, called the proposal an "act of moral poverty".
So where did all of this originate? Unsurprisingly, in the US:
The proposal has been front page news since parliament heard testimony from members of the Great Ape Project (GAP), a Seattle-based pressure group which campaigns for the creation of a "community of equals" in which humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans would all enjoy three fundamental rights: the right to life, to freedom, and to protection from torture.

Their "declaration" calls for great apes to be kept locked up only when they are a threat to the community, and then only with a right of appeal to the courts, with representation by a lawyer.
I can imagine being a lawyer to apes would be quite impressive on one's resume.

And, of course there is the usual irony involved in silly movements such as this:
Pedro Pozas, the secretary general of the Spanish branch of the GAP, said that animals reared in captivity might remain in zoos, even after the law's passage, "provided that they are kept in good conditions, with a habitat adapted to their conditions and needs."

Mr Pozas criticised the trade and exchange of apes between zoos and breeding centres. "To move a baby ape is to split up a family. They have feelings, they can feel sad, and they have the capacity for love. If a zoo has no room for new births, it would be better to sterilise the females."
Apparently Mr. Pozas doesn't feel the female apes in question should have the right to refuse sterilization.

Better call an ape lawyer.

It is one thing to pass laws which protect particular species such as great apes. Both New Zealand and Britian have done that. It is another to begin talking about animals having rights equal with humans. If you buy into the argument, then you have to buy into the argument that says only states can grant you rights.

And if you buy into that, you also have to understand that "A goverment that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away.". So granting the premise means you haven't a moral leg to stand on or a moral argument to make if and when they do.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

I understand that the Democrats are eagerly studying this to see if they can adopt it here in the US........provided that the apes could be convinced to vote Democrat of course
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Well, Shark, dead people currently vote Democratic, so your project is clearly feasible.
Written By: Notherbob2
URL: http://
Just what we need-another minority.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
I’m terribly interested to hear what Mr. Henks thinks about this, since he both claims inherent or "natural" human rights do not exist and that the state does not grant their equivalent. Of course, I may be misunderstanding him, he is welcome to correct me by explaining himself further.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
Does that mean that it might become legal to fling dung in Spain?

Wow. Maybe I’ll move.
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
Someone, Limbaugh perhaps..Horowitz...pointed ut that the Left’s NEW preferred patrons were dolphins, trees and children, because unlike women, the poor and minorities they will ALWAYS NEED SOMEONE TO SPEAK FOR THEM. Women, the poor and minorities can sometimes be such ungrateful wretches and refuse your help and even VOTE REPUBLICAN. Dolphins, trees and children never will be able to turn down your "help". They’re PERFECT clients!
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I’m terribly interested to hear what Mr. Henks thinks about this
I thought about blogging it when the story first came out a couple months ago, but decided against it. I find just about every side of this debate somewhat intellectually incoherent.
...since he both claims inherent or "natural" human rights do not exist and that the state does not grant their equivalent.

Well, I do believe that "rights" are a human construct, rather than a ’natural law’; I’m not sure where you get "the state does not grant their equivalent", though. Humans can construct and act upon conceptions of ’rights’; the State, consisting of humans, can codify and enforce those conceptions.

In this case, the State can extend certain legal protections — you may call them ’rights’, if you like — to apes. If it does, then apes will have certain recognized protections. I fail to see how this is any different than the state extending protections to humans, except insofar as humans and apes are different. The actual results will be the same. Apes and humans would both have certain ’rights’ protected by law.

I think it’s all rather silly, but it’s interesting in an academic way.

My only real interest in the matter is in this question: what sets humans apart from apes? And the follow-ups would inquire why, if apes are intellectually and rationally comparable to ~ a 4 year old or a mentally disabled person, why do we not extend the same considerations to each? What fundamental difference gives humans rights, but not apes? And if that difference did not obtain, would humans not have rights?
Written By: Jon Henke
I’m terribly interested to hear what Mr. Henks thinks about this, since he both claims inherent or "natural" human rights do not exist and that the state does not grant their equivalent. Of course, I may be misunderstanding him, he is welcome to correct me by explaining himself further.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
Hey guys. The refresh screen = POSTDATA screen = a duplicate post thing just happened. FYI.

TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
Not that Mr. Henke does not already know this, but critical to the difference between human beings and apes is that the former ask these sort of questions and the latter do not.

Aside from those whose notion of natural rights actually unpacks to something supernatural, I’m never quite clear what people who claim natural rights are getting at. Assuming there are such things as rights that really do exist, clearly they exist among, in and for human beings at least in part because of the purely contingent but natural facts about human existence. These include the fact that we are language users (and not in the limited, almost metaphorical sense other animals are sometimes said to be), vulnerable and roughly equal in our vulnerability (e.g., everyone must sleep) and in need of the company and cooperation of others for survival and, in my opinion equally important, any sort of lives more fulfilling than mere survival. So I want to say, even as I creep up on the naturalist fallacy, that the fact that human beings are moral agents is a purely natural fact, thus capable of being different than it is. (If human beings were naturally immortal, would they have the right to life?)

Whatever counts as rights is a function of these empirical facts if only in the sense that if they were not the case our sense of rights would be drastically different. Indeed, in the case of being language users, our sense of rights arguably wouldn’t exist at all because they are to that extent, and as Mr. Henke noted, human ’constructs.’ I might add that they are human social constructs as well — it would make no sense to speak of the rights of the last human being alive or of one’s rights vis-a-vis other sorts of animals. That is, for example, we don’t complain if a bear attacks us that it has violated our rights, and with good reason. Even less do we say the fox has violated the chicken’s rights. (It is also why we ascribe such rights on a species-wide basis, including infants and the mentally defective, though that takes a bit more explaining.)

So, finally, I am inclined to agree with Mr. Henke about the silliness of ape rights. Indeed, the state can ’recognize’ and attemt to protect such ’rights,’ but so what? The state recognizes corporations as ’persons,’ too, but no one gets too bothered about mistaking Microsoft for a human being. Of course, whether apes are due some sort of recognized moral rights is a more interesting question. To which, by the way, the answer is no. Moral regard, to be sure. But that is quite a different matter.
Written By: D.A. Ridgely
URL: http://
Utter intellectual claptrap. That is all that I can say of this proposal. And the extremely disingenous notion that Senor Garrido expounds upon that apes are in any way equivalent to the disabled, children, or those in comas is nauseating.

That Spain, which served as a beacon (granted, a highly overzealous beacon) of Christianity for half a millenium, should come to this level of moral reasoning is not only alarming, it is heartbreaking.
Written By: The Poet Omar
URL: http://

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