Hominid Rights

It was not that long ago that the divide between Human and Animals was considered a vast and fundamental one.  Even science maintained an almost religious separation, where our mighty self awareness was separated from the fleshy automatons that were animals.  Above are the gods, below the animals, and between the tragic humans,  with the self determination of the gods but with mortal bodies like the animals.

The last 30 years have smudged these comfortable divides and we are increasingly realizing that the separation between us and animals is a lot smaller than we once thought, about 1.6% small.   There is an increasing weight of evidence that suggests the massive changes that have occurred because of human intelligence are dependent on a few very small, but obviously critical, aspects of our genetics selfs.  Namely, our upright position, our hands, and our ability to make complex noises and thus speak.

Much of what we used to think was exclusively human is also definitely shared by our close genetics cousins, the chimps, gorillas, orangoutangs, and probably by other more distant relations, parrots, dolphins, whales.    There is a compelling argument that if we can endow our selves with inalienable rights against torture, freedom from ownership, etc. Then surely at least some of these rights should be extended to those animals that illustrate qualities that we share such as intelligence and self awareness.

Strangely enough this movement was first supported by sovereign legislation by the NZ government in 1999. ” All members of the Homindae Family (humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans) share complex cognitive aptitudes not shared by most other animals. Yet only human hominids have legal rights to life and personal security. The campaign to win fundamental rights for all hominids took a small but significant step forward in 1999 when New Zealand’s Animal Welfare Act banned the use of non-human hominids in research, testing, and teaching except where such uses are in the hominids’ best interests.”

A Step at a Time: New Zealand’s Progress Towards Hominid Rights

Its one of those great moments in politics where a brave and pioneering bit of legislation was passed that was never going to affect anything because NZ doesn’t do scientific tests on hominids anyway.  However it does set a good legal precedent, and its one I can’t see any reason not to support.  One only has to visit the chimps at a Zoo and reflect on this sentence below by Jared Diamond in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee to know that something just ain’t right.

“The first chimp that I saw being used for medical research had been injected with a slow-acting lethal virus and was being kept alone, for several years until it died, in small, empty, cage.”