Wired — Over the last several decades, researchers have shown that many dolphin and whale species are extraordinarily intelligent and social creatures, with complex cultures and rich inner lives. They are, in a word, persons.
Now animal advocates are challenging society to follow science to its logical conclusion and give legal rights to cetaceans. In the next several years, they intend to make their case in a court of law. If they’re successful, a dolphin could conceivably become the first non-human ever considered a legal person.
“The problem so far is that all nonhuman animals are seen as being legal things,” said Steven Wise, an animal law scholar and attorney. “If you’re a legal person, you have the capacity to have rights. That’s the fundamental problem we intend to attack.”
Wise founded the Nonhuman Rights Project in 2007, two years after finishing a series of books on animals, rights and law. The first two, Rattling the Cage and Drawing the Line, made a case for giving legal rights to chimpanzees and bonobos, and considering other animals on a species-by-species basis. He followed those works with Though the Heavens May Fall, an account of the 1772 trial of James Somerset, the first black human recognized as a person under British law.
At the trial’s beginning, Somerset was legally considered a thing, not even permitted to speak on his behalf. At its end, he was a person. The case used by Somerset’s lawyers was an inspiration to Wise, and by the end of 2013 the Nonhuman Rights Project plans to file two lawsuits on behalf of individual animals held in captivity in the United States.
To be sure, it will be an underdog’s battle, and might even be called quixotic. “There would be tremendous resistance. People would worry — ‘What are the limits? Is every animal in a zoo going to have a lawyer?’” said Richard Posner, a judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “In the foreseeable future it wouldn’t have traction.”Continue Reading on www.wired.com