CAMLAW: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog

Chimp personhood advanced, deepening animal rights

A test case in Austria is seeking to establish that Hiasl, a chimp, deserves legal recognition as a person.

Such recognition would save Hiasl from vivisection. The lawsuit compares Hiasl to an asylum-seeker, which makes sense, since he was illegally abducted from his native country and smuggled into a new land. In a sense, slavery is still with us, only this slavery involves a chimp. The question is whether the legal concept of slavery can be extended across species lines. According to the UK Observer:

One of their central arguments will be that a chimpanzee's DNA is 96-98.4 per cent similar to that of humans - closer than the relationship between donkeys and horses. They will cite recent findings that wild apes hunt with home-made spears and can fight battles and make peace. In New Zealand, apes - gorillas, orang utans, chimpanzees and bonobos - were granted special rights as 'non-human hominids' in 1999 to grant protection from maltreatment, slavery, torture, death and extinction.

Sommer, an evolutionary anthropologist, said: 'It's untenable to talk of dividing humans and humanoid apes because there are no clear-cut criteria - neither biological, nor mental, nor social.' Paula Stibbe, a British woman, has applied to be named Hiasl's legal guardian. She said: 'He is a colourful character with lots of energy. The least we can do for him is give him ... a future in society.' Barbara Bartl, the judge and an animal rights campaigner, has stalled proceedings until documents are provided proving Hiasl has, as his friends say, the status of an asylum-seeker, having been abducted illegally from Sierra Leone.

It is time to cross the "species barrier" and accord the kind of dignity and respect to other species that eliminates human domination of the Earth. Hiasl's advocates argue that he deserves a "future in society." On any level, he is certainly a teacher to humanity. We can circle endlessly around whether Hiasl has or has not a soul - I know where I would place my bet. He certainly feels, knows, senses. He:

recognises himself in the mirror, plays hide-and-seek and breaks into fits of giggles when tickled. He is also our closest evolutionary cousin.

Only some 4-odd percent of his DNA is different from yours or mine. Would it make a difference if the number was 40 or 14?
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Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen offers general corporate legal services, litigation consultation, and expertise in health law with a unique focus on alternative, complementary, and integrative medical therapies. The firm represents medical doctors, allied health professionals (from psychologists to nurses and dentists) and other clinicians (from chiropractors to acupuncturists), solo entrepreneurs, hospitals, and educational and health care institutions.

Michael H. Cohen is Principal in Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen and also President of the Institute for Integrative and Energy Medicine (also known as the Institute for Health, Ethics, Law, Policy & Society), a forum for exploring legal, regulatory, ethical, and health policy issues involved in the judicious integration of complementary and alternative medical therapies (such as acupuncture and traditional oriental medicine, chiropractic, massage therapy, and herbal medicine) and conventional clinical care. The most recent published book by Michael H. Cohen on health care law, regulation, ethics and policy pertaining to complementary, alternative and integrative medicine and related fields is Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion, which follows Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives (1998), Beyond Complementary Medicine: Legal and Ethical Perspectives on Health Care and Human Evolution (2000), and Future Medicine: Ethical Dilemmas, Regulatory Challenges, and Therapeutic Pathways to Health Care and Healing in Human Transformation (2003).

Health care and corporate lawyer Michael H. Cohen is licensed has been admitted to the Bar of California, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington D.C., and to the Bar of England and Wales as a Solicitor (non-practicing).
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