Oregon Primate Center vs Resident Chimps

Wesley J. Smith discusses the emerging debate on animal rights.

With the national debate on health care drawing a great deal of the public’s attention, Wesley Smith draws attention to another public policy debate that may go unnoticed. A policy that Mr. Smith feels would create “chaos in our society” by elevating animals to legal personhood.

Animal rights activists are gaining a great deal of momentum as they are finding stronger advocates not only in Congress but also in the White House and in the courts.

Congress is considering a ban on invasive research on intelligent primates. It is modeled after the Great Ape Project passed in Spain that says humans and gorillas are a part of a “community of equals”.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman, Towns (D, NY) has gathered almost 60 cosponsors for the Great Ape Protection Act. The bill states that chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans, and gibbons “are highly intelligent and social animals, and research laboratory environments involving invasive research cannot meet their complex social and psychological needs.” The measure would forbid the use of federal funds in experiments on apes, impose fines of $10,000 a day for violations, and require the government to provide retirement shelters for the animals.

“Invasive” research by definition can be far-reaching and many consider this a first step in a ban on research using all animals. While no one likes the idea of doing research on chimps, there is tremendous good that has been derived from research because of their close genetic relationship to the human. For example, Chimps research was behind the hepatitis vaccination. Chimps acquire HIV but they don’t get ill, which is an interesting phenomenon and worthy of study. In order to find an effective vaccine against AID’s, chimpanzee experimentation might be necessary.

Mr. Smith feels these limitations on research may be just the tip of the iceberg. Not only is the Legislative arm of our government taking steps to consider new laws, the Executive branch is formally taking action. President Obama has recently selected Cass Sunstein as a regulation czar. Mr. Sunstein has been an outspoken advocate for granting animals legal standing and the right to sue their owners.

The chaotic legal ramifications of that are far-reaching. Ranch owners could have a difficult time accessing liability insurance if an animal rights group is active in his area. The rancher would be at the risk of his herd of cattle filing a lawsuit against him.

In Portland, the Oregon National Primate Research Center would be under constant threat of lawsuit by animal rights groups representing the animals at the Research Center. Imagine defending class action lawsuits filed on behalf of chimpanzees claiming wrongful imprisonment or an injunction against a particular experiment. It would mean an end to some very important medical experimentation.

Oregon is under the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit, which has already taken the position that animals have the right to sue. Cass Sunstein is also considered to be on the fast-track to the Supreme Court. So, there is a real possibility of the highest court in the land ruling that an animal has the right to sue you in court.

Mr. Smith believes the idea of elevating animals to human personhood is no longer simply a “silly notion”. The public policy debate has now reached the realm of a very real possibility.

Wesley Smith is an award-winning author and Senior Fellow in Human Rights and Bioethics at the Discovery Institute. His website is WesleyJSmith.com. He also blogs as Secondhand Smoke that can be accessed through his website.

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