Court Grants Legal Rights to Two Chimps

Human-style relief extended to animals

Two chimps used in biomedical experiments have been granted habeas corpus, which means they are recognized as legal persons. (Wikimedia Commons)
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Justice Barbara Jaffe, in Manhattan Supreme Court, extended an order to show cause on Monday to two primates, implying they could be entitled to the same rights that are granted to a human being seeking relief from unlawful or inhuman confinement. In a three-page order, Jaffe ordered Stony Brook University to provide legally sufficient reason for confining chimpanzees Hercules and Leo as subjects for medical experiments. If it fails to do so at a hearing scheduled for May 6, the chimps may be set free.

Animal rights activists have greeted the order as heartening news. Given the high level of intelligence and emotional complexity recognized in chimpanzees, many advocates have argued that chimps deserve, just like human beings, to be free from indefinite confinement, and that the law should reflect that. Many hope Jaffe’s decision will affect the status and rights of hundreds of other primates living in confinement in the United States.

Though the order is unprecedented, the Nonhuman Rights Project, which filed a habeas corpus petition on behalf of the chimps in March, explicitly distinguishes it from a recognition of the two chimps as “legal persons” in a press release published Monday on the group’s website. On Tuesday afternoon, another clarification posted on the NRP website states that the words “habeas corpus” had been crossed out and struck out from the title, so that it now simply reads “Order to Show Cause.”

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